3000 euro loss
It is that up there, on the edges of this green basin which surrounds Lantabat, epicenter of the phenomenon, a formidable and dreaded predator prevails. Wolf, stray dog, hybrid? Nobody knows for the moment (read elsewhere). But the result is there, the same and double. The individual, alone or accompanied, regularly causes carnage. Local farmers estimate “between 100 and 150” the number of sheep “wounded, missing or dead” in the past four months. With this sad shared conclusion: “The proof is made that predation is not tenable for people like us who have sheep in the mountains”, asserts Panpi Sainte-Marie, also victim with his some 200 sheep of the sharp fangs of “the critter”.
Panpi Sainte-Marie, sheep breeder in Lantabat
On the other side of the Ipharlatze pass, Paxkal Etchebest assesses the minimum loss linked to the attacks on his livestock at 3,000 euros, between the cost of buying the ewes, what they would have brought in and the possible abortions caused by the stress. Bill still weighed down by the cost of food, when it is necessary to keep the sheep at the bottom of the slope near the farm.
Like Izuratar, many farmers in this Lower Navarrese territory of small mountains (500 m for the highest), a buffer between Amikuze and Garazi-Baigorry, repatriate their proteges as the particularly moving threat approaches. “But that’s not enough, there were attacks 50 m from the sheepfold,” says Panpi Sainte-Marie. Last solution, lock up the troops: “Which is still contradictory when you do organic, plague Paxkal Etchebest. Psychologically, we live badly, we are worried about the future. »
Paxkal Etchebest, sheep breeder in Ostabat
Innocent people killed?
Weighed down by this economic uncertainty, the climate has turned downright “to collective psychosis” in recent weeks, according to Panpi Sainte-Marie. When the town halls of Ostabat and Lantabat, in particular, issued orders authorizing the slaughter of “stray and wandering dogs”. Until proven otherwise, the authorities consider that the predator does not come from elsewhere. Herders have started keeping watch on the ridges. To sleep at the heights in their cars. To lose clarity. Gunshots rang out. A lot. Not always wisely. Innocent people would have been killed. Valuable canines, sometimes. Twenty dead. For nothing, maybe. The Lantabat breeder would like to be wrong. But he doubts the thesis of the doggie gone mad: “Dog attacks happen. Ones who bit once and took the vice. Except that the dog, sooner or later, makes a mistake. »
The duration of predation pleads for another specimen. A hunter. Smarter. The mayor of Lantabat Patrick Etchegaray, if he assumes the decrees taken, reinforced by data from the prefecture, recognizes that the extent of the offensive is unprecedented: “Dog attacks happen almost every year. But a problem that has been going on for so long and that we can’t solve, we’ve never seen that. “The city councilor is reassured by noting “the absence of attacks for a week: the dog or dogs may have been killed”.
The prospect of hell
Among its constituents in Lantabat and in the six other villages concerned (Ostabat, Armendaritz, Suhescun, Ainhice-Mogelos, Larceveau, Iholdy), there is also feverish hope. The news would mark the end of a four-month nightmare. And avoid the prospect of hell forever. For all the local farmers, there would be much worse than these repeated “massacres”: that they were carried out by a wolf, identified as such by the authorities. The eventuality would sanctuary the territory for the species. And would eliminate two others from the Ipharlatze and Palombières passes: sheep and their owners. “In my absolute dreams, I would like to, but cohabitation is impossible, insists Paxkal Etchebest. It is transhumance that is at stake.”
Panpi Sainte-Marie, sheep breeder in Lantabat
Between dog and wolf
The idea that a wolf or a particularly dangerous dog was prowling the sector did not immediately germinate in the minds of the breeders. “At first, as it was spring, we thought of ticks. It happens at this time: in one day, the sheep die and you don’t even see the corpses, which are immediately eaten by the vultures,” explains Panpi Sainte-Marie. Then strange phenomena began to occur in the seven villages concerned (Lantabat, Ostabat, Armendaritz, Suhescun, Ainhice-Mongelos, Larceveau, Iholdy). Here a ram who descends the mountain and finds himself in a house where he does not usually go. There a sheep that rushes alone and straight for 3 km. The first wounds (traces of fangs on the throat, on the legs) and the observation of a few shredded remains before cleaning by raptors removed the last doubts about the presence of a predator. It remains to determine which animal exactly.
The prefecture, on the basis of analyzes by the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB) carried out on 7 of the 11 cases reported by breeders, initially ruled out the trail of the wolf. But a nocturnal photo taken on August 19, by local hunters, again caused trouble. “Based on photographs (of mediocre quality), the OFB expertise service retained the index “wolf not excluded”. This means that more than 50% of the wolf’s morphological criteria are met, but in the absence of a DNA survey and genetic analysis, it is not possible to establish with certainty whether it is a wolf or a dog,” says the local state representation. The latter also recalls that “the permanent presence of a single wolf is confirmed” in the department, a male of Italian-Alpine origin, in the Ossau valley. And concludes as follows: “The OFB estimates the population of wolves in France at 1,000 individuals with a dispersal period between March and November. The wolves present in certain areas of the department can therefore simply be on the move”.