The First Gray Wolf in More Than 100 Years May Have Returned to Northern France

Gray wolves, while numerous in parts of Canada and the U.S., have only recently returned to continental Europe. Paul A Carpenter/Shutterstock

After an absence of more than 100 years, the iconic gray wolf may have returned to northern France.

According to the French Biodiversity Office, an animal closely resembling one was captured in images taken by an automatic surveillance camera. The very wolf-like creature was traveling alone in the middle of the night on April 8 near the northeast village of Londinières.

The French Biodiversity Office, a government agency that monitors the country's wolf population, claims to have "authenticated this observation as very probably being a grey wolf."

"The photo was analyzed by several people experienced in the identification of the wolf and who concluded that there was a high probability," a spokesperson from the agency tells Newsweek. "However, it cannot 100 percent be said it is a wolf. Only DNA analysis on biological material would remove doubts."

If it is indeed a European gray wolf, it would mark a promising — if modest — return to a land it was once driven from. Gray wolves, once considered the bane of farmers for their livestock-ravaging ways, were over-hunted to the point they disappeared from all of France. But over the last 30 years, they have taken tentative steps toward a return, starting with a few of their numbers crossing over the Alps from Italy.

"The species is known for its great dispersal capacity, especially during the territory search phase," a representative from the French Biodiversity Office explained to The Local in January. "Thus, since its reappearance in the Southern Alps in 1992, the wolf has crossed territories as far away as the Pyrenees, Lorraine, Burgundy and the Somme."

Today, there are about 530 wolves in France, mostly confined to the regions near the Alps and the Italian border. But their numbers are likely to grow thanks to their status as "protected" under the EU's Bern Convention.

And it appears at least one gray wolf has now made it as far north as Normandy, the region where the latest image was taken.

How humans and carnivores are sharing space

Karakachans guarding sheep in Bulgaria. The dogs are known for their bravery in fighting back against both wolves and bears.
Karakachans guarding sheep in Bulgaria. The dogs are known for their bravery in fighting back against both wolves and bears. (Photo: Semperviva/Wikimedia)

Farmers may not be as thrilled as conservationists about the wolf's return to the north, but times have changed since their only resort was to hunt them down.

In the Dinaric Alps to the south, where hundreds of wolves, along with thousands of bears and other wild carnivores roam, farmers have adopted less lethal ways to protect their livestock.

Those measures include guard dogs, surveillance equipment and, of course, one of the most reliable assurances of good neighborly relations: fences.

Only these fences, according to Euronews, are nearly six-feet tall and pack a jolt.

"It's very important that the fence always has electricity, even if the animals are not in the pen," one farmer tells the news agency. "That way, large carnivores will associate touching the electric fence with pain, and no longer approach, no longer attack the livestock."