PARIS (AFP) - French farmers flocked to the Eiffel Tower on Thursday, sheep in tow, to express their frustration over increasing attacks by wolves which some say have been "overprotected" by the government.
Sheep lazily grazed at the foot of the French capital's most famous monument as the farmers gathered under grey skies to demand an effective plan to stop the wolf attacks.
"Today farmers, tomorrow unemployed", read one banner, while one of the protesters dressed as a wolf carried around a lamb.
The farmers were not alone: animal rights activists calling for the protection of wolves also made an appearance under the Eiffel Tower.
The protesters are due to meet Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll later in the day, and the sheep are expected to accompany them to the ministry.
"There is nothing natural about being eaten by wolves. We are against wolves from the moment they attack our farms," Claude Font, head of a sheep farmers' organisation from the central region of Auvergne, said ahead of the protest.
French farmers have grown increasingly angry over the rise in wolf populations.
The animals were hunted almost to extinction in France in the 1930s, but crossed back into the country from Italy in the 1990s. They are now protected and number around 300.
Plans to introduce a group of wild bears into mountains on the edge of the French Pyrenees also raised ire earlier this year.
The last official figures in August showed 4,800 wolf attacks, mostly on sheep, so far this year - about 1,000 more than the same time in 2013.
France's Environment Minister Segolene Royal stepped into the row in June, saying that attacks by wolves had become too frequent.
"The damage to herders has become too great," she said in a statement. The distress of the farmers and their families should be better taken into account," she said.
Claire, a sheep farmer from Drome in the southeast, said the constant threat of wolf attacks was "an enormous daily stress... it is omnipresent and oppressive, farmers around me feel helpless".
"Those who wanted to overprotect them are going to kick themselves. The wolf reproduces and moves around very fast, she added.