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Wolves to be ‘educated’ not to kill sheep

In a bid to try and crackdown on the number of wolf attacks on farm animals the French government has announced a plan to try and "educate" the wild beasts. The proposal has been greeted with mixed reactions.

Wolves to be 'educated' not to kill sheep
A wolf spotted in the Mercatour Park, south west France . Photo Valery Hache/AFP

Can you teach a wolf not to eat sheep?

The idea is being floated in France, where the return of the wolf has got farmers and environmentalists at each other's throats.

Under a proposed "National Wolf Plan," the government says it will conduct experiments into "educating" the canine carnivore, which is spreading stealthily in remote areas.

Rest assured, this scheme does not entail lecturing wolves about the cuteness of lambs or trying to convert them to vegetarianism.

Instead, it entails capturing individual wolves that are known to attack a local flock and then marking these bothersome predators before letting them go.

The theory is that the animal will be so traumatised by the experience that it will leave the sheep alone and instead hunt for deer, boar, rabbits and other wild animals.

But if the wolf remains a problem, the ID makes it easier to be singled out and shot.

"Eleven of France's regional parks have said they are willing to take part in the experiments," Ecology Minister Delphine Batho said this week, as the proposal met a mixed reception.

Once plentiful, the wolf officially died out in France in the 1930s, wiped out by farmers and hunters.

More than a half a century later, wolves began creeping back, crossing the border from Italy. In 1992, suspicions of the comeback were confirmed when a pair of wolves were spotted in the Mercantour park in the southeast of the country.

Around 250 wolves in France

Today, according to Eric Marboutin at the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS), there are around 250 wolves, 90 percent of them in the Alps, and scatterings of others in the east and southwest of France, including the eastern Pyrenees.

In 2011, a wolf was spotted for the first time in the Vosges, in eastern France, and last year, a wolf was photographed in a cornfield in the southwestern department (county) of Gers, the westernmost point of the species' advance.

The wolf is shielded by the Bern Convention on European wildlife, and in 2007 it joined other mammals on a list of species that in France are given special protection, except in specific cases where they pose a threat.

But flocks are under rising pressure as the wolves expand.

Two powerful groups — the agricultural lobby and the environmental movement — are fiercely at odds, despite efforts to forge consensus in a "National Wolf Group" that includes politicians.

Emotions flared last month in the upper house of the French parliament, where rural regions are strongly represented.

Senator Pierre Bernard-Reymond of the High Alps region blasted Parisians for what he said was their cosy image of an ancient predator.

"It's time to release a few wolfpacks in the Vincennes Park or the Luxembourg Gardens," he said — a suggestion that was not adopted.

In 2008, 2,680 sheep were killed by wolves, according to an official count; this rose to 4,920 in 2011 and 5,848 in 2012, when the state paid out compensation of around two million euros ($2.7 million).

At present, 11 wolves are allowed to be shot each year. Anti-wolvers say that this restriction is far too inflexible.

Under the 2013-2017 plan, the figure would be adjusted in line with scientific estimates of what is a sustainable wolf population.

"The wolf is and will remain a species that is strictly protected," the ecology and agricultural ministries said in a joint statement.

"However, bearing in mind the healthy population dynamics of this species, it is possible to fine-tune the methods for managing it."

Capturing and marking a problem animal would mean that only the real culprits would be targeted. Or so it is hoped.

Jean-Jacques Blanchon of the pro-wolf Nicolas Hulot Foundation said wolf education had worked successfully in pilot experiments in the United States, "so we should make the effort to see what it can do for us."

Don't bother, retorted others.

"You might as well try to educate a shark," said Daniel Spagnou, a member of a commission probing the fraught relationship between wolves and mountain herdsmen.

"What a circus! Whatever next? Wolf-tamers?"

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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