Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wolf territory

Wild wolves are now proliferating successfully in France, and their current population is 250.

Wild wolf, 13 November 2012, in the Mercantour park, southern France.
Photo AFP/Archives, Valery Hache.

A new 5-year "wolf plan" concocted by government authorities will become operational in spring. Since the geographical zone inhabited by wolves has been expanding by 25 per cent a year, their slaughter of grazing animals has been increasing at a similar rate. In 2012, for example, wolves in France killed 5,848 animals, mainly sheep, compared with 4,920 in 2011. An intriguing aspect of the forthcoming plan consists of trying to train wild wolves (the verb in French is "educate") to attenuate their slaughter and consumption of grazing animals. This will be done by capturing wolves that attack flocks, and keeping them locked up and fed with prepared meals for a while, during which time the imprisoned wolves will hopefully become aware of their sins and promise to mend their ways. It's a lofty goal (I'm reminded of the way in which religious authorities attempt to re-educate pedophile priests), but I'm not sure it'll work.

I often wonder whether my dear dog Fitzroy ever had an opportunity of meeting up with wolves in his birthplace in Risoul 1850. Apparently these beasts are thriving up on the slopes of the Hautes-Alpes department, where Fitzroy's parents looked after sheep and cattle. This morning, after reading about the good intentions of the new wolf plan, I walked outside to admire the falling snow. And I found Fitzroy devouring eagerly an unexpected breakfast meal.

It was the leg of an adult sheep, with tufts of wool still intact, suggesting that it had been killed quite recently. When I used a shovel to shift the bones to another spot, where I could examine them more closely, Fitzroy growled with displeasure. So I let him carry on gnawing at the bones. Notice, in the following photo, how he uses a paw to stabilize one end of the bone, just above the sheep's ankle.

Since I'm an optimist (like the folk who intend to educate wild wolves), I'll persist in believing, for the moment, that the sheep was already dead when Fitzroy came upon its carcass. This is a reasonable assumption. If ever Fitzroy were to return home from a sheep-slaughtering excursion, I would normally notice his blood-stained appearance and greasy smell. I shall nevertheless phone up my neighbor Gérard Magnat, this evening, to talk with him about this incident.

Needless to say, there's at least one perfectly plausible explanation, which we should not fail to consider, of how this sheep might have died. I'm referring to the possibility of a nocturnal visit from a genuine wolf.

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