Coming across dogs guarding flocks of sheep when walking in the Alps can be terrifying, but Pastoral Mediator Bertrand Selosse, in Allos (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) says the dogs are only doing their job.
“They are trained to scare off any humans or other animals including wolves, who might disturb or menace the sheep. But of course it’s frightening for walkers.”
Shepherds must protect livestock
He says that as wolves return to high Alpine pastures, shepherds are faced with the problem of protecting their livestock from predators.
In order to receive compensation from the government, shepherds have to show that they have taken all possible precautions against wolf attacks; electric fencing, motion-sensitive lighting, and guard dogs for example.
‘The mountains are shared’
“On one hand are the people who maintain the environment, who prevent avalanches, who manage the forests, and also the farmers raising livestock.” says Bertrand Selosse.
“On the other hand there are visitors who want to enjoy the mountains without being attacked by sheepdogs. It’s important that both sides understand and respect each other.”
He therefore created a website called PastoRando.com which geolocates flocks of sheep and sheepdogs in real time.
“Each flock has two sheep wearing GPS collars which are linked to the website. Tourists can use the site from any mobile phone to find out exactly where the animals are, so they can avoid them.
“It shows the zones where sheep are liable to graze, and you click on them to find out the number of sheep currently there, the number of dogs, the shepherd’s first name, and the dogs’ names.
“If ever the collars are not readable, the circle changes colour to show where the flock was two hours ago.”
Number of incidents down
He says the scheme has been a big success in the commune.
“In Allos we usually have around a dozen incidents every summer involving tourists being frightened or bitten by sheep dogs, but this year we only had three, so it worked very well for both sides.”
The initial funding was €30,000 to construct the website, buy the GPS collars, and run an information campaign.
“We’re hoping for more funding to expand the scheme next summer. Neighbouring communes already want to join it, and eventually perhaps the idea could be used to geolocate hunters too, and avoid accidents.”
What to do if you encounter a sheepdog
The website includes videos about pastoral zones, and sheepdogs, and what NOT to do if you encounter one. (Do not run, shout, throw stones, or look them in the eye. Don’t try to force the passage if a dog doesn’t want you to pass. Speak soothingly, stay calm.)
The scheme will run again next year from June, when the sheep are moved to the high pastures, and October, when they return to the pastures lower down in the valleys.
The French Biodiversity Office (OFB) estimates that in 2021-2022 there were between 826 and 1,016 adult wolves in France, including populations in the Vosges, the Massif Central, and the Pyrenees as well as the Alps.
Hunters and farmers claim that around 12,000 farm animals were killed by wolves in 2020, across 39 départements during 3,700 separate attacks.