Alpine ibexes threatened with massive slaughter

Massif du Bargy (Haute-Savoie)

You have to look at the ridges. Sometimes there is a big male standing guard. » Telescope in hand, Jean-Pierre Crouzat scrutinizes the peak of Jallouvre, in the heart of the Bargy massif, in Haute-Savoie. The administrator of France Nature Environnement is looking for a needle in a haystack. Or more precisely, an ibex on a needle. The minutes pass. The cliffs are deserted. Suddenly, the naturalist cracks a smile: The ! » Four goats have just appeared at the bend of a ridge. Wrapped in a blond fur jacket characteristic of their winter coat, the young of this protected species play at knocking their horns together. These ibexes have a life expectancy of fifteen years. Finally, if the prefect lends them life… » breathes Jean-Pierre Crouzat.

By order of the prefecture of Haute-Savoie, 170 of the 370 ibexes of the Bargy massif will be slaughtered. Their fault: being suspected of having transmitted brucellosis to a bovine in November 2021. This zoonosis is transmitted to humans during the birth of infected cows and by the consumption of raw dairy products. France is officially unscathed » since 2005. The most recent case dates back to 2012, when two young Savoyards were contaminated by cheeses produced in Grand-Bornand, near the massif. In response, the prefect of Haute-Savoie had decreed the capture and then the euthanasia of HIV-positive ibexes, and the slaughter of unmarked animals.

Jean-Pierre Crouzat scrutinizes the peak of Jallouvre. © Moran Kerinec / Reporterre

From around 570 individuals in 2013, the ibex population fell to 270 in 2016 according to the count of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB). In 2020, it rose to 370. According to a study carried out by agents of theOFBthe prevalence rate of the disease among females most likely to transmit it increased from 50 % within 15 % between 2012 and 2020. An analysis confirmed by the National Food Safety Agency (Anses) in its opinion of November 2021: The situation has clearly improved throughout the massif, all sectors combined: the seroprevalence having been divided by approximately ten, and the size of the population having decreased by a third, the number of infected ibexes present in the massif has been greatly reduced. »

For breeders, only one solution: “ the total slaughter of ibexes »

This drastic reduction in the disease did not protect a herd from Saint-Laurent, affected by a case of brucellosis in November 2021. For a sick animal, all of the 224 cows of the Abondance breed were taken to the slaughterhouse. There is a considerable moral impact for our breeders, we are attached to our animalssighs Bernard Mogenet, president of the FDSEA (Departmental Federation of Farmers’ Unions) of Savoie. The State compensates but the money does not fill the moral distress. » About sixty farms are concerned by this danger, according to him. loss of status unscathed » zoonosis would be particularly damaging for the industry. This will make it very difficult to export our raw milk cheeses, our meat and our vealdreads Bernard Mogenet. During the calving period, 400 to 500 Savoie calves are exported every week. »

The union representative believes that we must return to a population of 50 and 100 ibex to ensure effective health monitoring ». But observes that the producers holding thePDO Reblochon close to the massif see only one solution: the total slaughter of the ibexes. For them, the state should have cleaned things up a long time ago. » To win their case, the breeders put pressure on the prefecture to enact the eradication of the ibexes.

The Bargy massif. © Moran Kerinec / Reporterre

Would the ibexes have the muzzle of the scapegoat ? ANSES’s investigations indicate that the latter have an almost zero probability of frequenting the paddock where the infected cow grazed in 2020 ». The health agency suspects the existence of an intermediary between cattle and ibexes, and observes with suspicion the chamois, also carriers of the disease, who frequent sometimes » the enclosures. The chamois would act as liaison hosts, and not maintenance hosts of brucellosis. A chamois with brucellosis will be much more affected than an ibex and will die quickly. », supports Jean-Pierre Crouzat. Despite these doubts, ANSES notes that the genomic analysis of the strain in question is very similar to that of the bovine outbreak of 2012 and to those isolated since in the wildlife of this massif. » The agency also stresses that the risk of contamination remains rare »with a single case in nine years.

The prefect’s measures dangerous », « imprecise ” and “ unachievable » according to scientists

To prevent any new infection, the prefect of Haute-Savoie, Alain Espinasse, decided in favor of the indiscriminate elimination of a majority of the ibexes, and the capture of at least 30 unmarked individuals. Objective: to constitute a healthy core » of animals. For the representative of the State, the risks for public health and the local economic fabric take precedence over the life of the emblematic species of the Alpine massif.

This sanitation method is severely contested by the National Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN), the advisory body of the Ministry of Ecological Transition. In a notice dated January 22, 2022, the CNPN questions the scientific reasoning of the prefecture: We are probably in the epidemiological phase where we can hope for a spontaneous extinction of the outbreak. It would be very dangerous to break this dynamic today by inappropriate measures. »

The consultative body observes that certain arguments of the prefectoral decree present an incomplete and biased version of the situation »and that its articles contain imprecise proposals likely to be applied according to very variable methods and to affect the pool of healthy individuals »or even would unachievable ». Including blood tests to detect sick animals after slaughter. These must be carried out in the minutes following the killing, and are difficult to achieve on the steep terrain of the massif.

Undifferentiated culling risks reigniting infection

To eradicate the disease, ANSES has developed six scenarios, graduated from non-intervention to the total slaughter of the ibex population. Epidemiologists advise against the latter solution: Despite this drastic reduction in the population, the probability of extinction remains well below 100 % (certain eradication), around 40 %. In addition, simulations where the infection does not die out show a demographic and epidemiological restart. » For the health agency, the solution is elsewhere: S3 and S4 scenarios (50 captures + shots in the core zone of 20 females per year or 50 ibexes of both sexes per year) result in some of the most favorable predictions. The comparison between scenarios shows that it is more favorable to preferentially and primarily shoot females in the core zone. »

ANSES considers that a massive and undifferentiated slaughter, as decided by the prefect Espinasse, has little chance of success. On the contrary, this technique carries the risk of destroying the ibex population, and of relaunching the infection by grouping together animals hitherto confined to different massifs.

To stop the shots FNE and five other environmental protection associations filed an interim order against the prefectoral order. It will be examined on May 11 by the administrative court of Grenoble. Jean-Pierre Crouzat is confident: two pairs of bearded vultures nest on the cliffs of Bargy. However, the habitat of this threatened raptor is considered a Special Protection Area (SPAs). The prefectural decree is particularly light on this very restrictive protection: The bearded vulture’s sensitive areas will be given special attention and overflight of this area will be avoided as much as possible. » But at the rate of 170 ibexes killed, Jean-Pierre Crouzat estimates at least 50 helicopter rotations necessary to evacuate the bodies, and as many opportunities to disturb the broods of bearded vultures.

Cabris playing in the faults of the mountain. © Moran Kerinec / Reporterre

Whatever it is, the decision of the judge will only be able to stir up tensions. If the decree is suspended, Bernard Mogenet warns: I no longer care for anyone, they will have to assume their responsibilities. » As for environmental protection associations, they remember the year 2013, when militants camped on the Bargy to hinder the shooting.

But time is running out. Near the naturalist, cars bearing the logo of theOFB descend from the Bargy massif. Since Friday, April 29, state agents have been capturing, screening and euthanizing ibexes. According to the prefecture, the shooting has not yet started. Careless of these human debates, the kids joust. As long as the prefect lends them life.

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