OFB WPIU interventions in France in 2021: gaining crucial knowledge on wolf behaviour
The OFB WPIU became fully operational in France in 2021.
As most breeders in the country already use preventive measures against wolf depredation (livestock guarding dogs (LGD), fences and shepherds), the objective of the unit is to provide technical advice to breeders on how to better set up and improve the preventive system already in place. This is done by attempting to better understand how wolves sometimes manage to get around preventive measures by actually observing and documenting wolf behaviour in the field.
OFB WPIU agents therefore equip LGD with GPS collars and use thermal imagery and trap cameras to record the behaviour of LGD and wolves in the vicinity of domestic flocks. Knowledge on how preventive measures work or not that are actually based on field observations of interactions between wolves, LGD and domestic flocks is quite rare. Yet this is crucial to truly provide advice on how preventive measures should be set up and possibly improved.
The two OFB WPIU agents dedicated exclusively to the unit spent a total of 40 nights and over 150 hours watching over domestic flocks prone to wolf depredation in 10 different sites in 2021 (see our previous article here), mostly during the summer and early autumn.
Five observations of wolf behaviour were made.
In 4 of them, a single or a couple of animals passed either far away or nearby the flock, without any attempt to attack.
In one of these occasions, the solitary wolf even approached one of the WPIU agents, but ran away as soon as it realized that a human being was nearby.
Observation: a wolf approaches the technicians then runs away – Photo credits: OFB
And on the last occasion, an attack attempt on the flock was recorded: a single wolf managed to jump over the electrified fence and disturb the flock before the two LGD reacted and got the wolf to flee!
This observation provided hard, indisputable evidence of how the predator can use the cover of forest to approach the flock without being detected by the LGD, and how easily it can jump over a fence. Based on this observation and in collaboration with the shepherd, the WPIU suggested moving the night pen away from the forest and adding a LGD to improve the dog-to-sheep ratio.
The OFB WPIU is already back in the field in 2022 and making similarly interesting observations.