Bardot backs the big bad wolf

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An unlikely coterie of crack French troops, huntsmen, shepherds and Brigitte Bardot has come together in pursuit of the "wolf of Larzac", a beast said to have cost farmers 50 lambs since May. No one has actually seen the wolf, but apocrypha in the villages insist that a policewoman fired at it from 20 yards and missed.

Last weekend, the beast struck again, and an expeditionary force was mustered, including troops from the nearby base. The arrival of the soldiers had almost as much symbolic as practical value.

Twenty years ago, conservationists stopped the expansion of the base in Larzac, a wild highland in the centre of southern France, and it is still a byword for "alternative" lifestyles.

On Wednesday, though, a 200-strong posse set out to hunt the wolf. Since wolves are protected animals in France, the expedition needed a special licence - which is where Brigitte Bardot came in.

Her foundation for the protection of animals offered a reward of 10,000 francs (pounds 1,282) for the capture of the animal alive. As a result, the hunt was not quite united. The shepherds, it is reported, wanted the wolf dead, while some troops dreamt of man-to-wolf combat and seizing the beast alive.

All, alas, were to be disappointed as the the wolf stubbornly stayed away. Le Monde had a simple explanation: "There's always a wolf, a good old family wolf ... to save the 'silly season'. If there's nothing to say, no news - we say, let's go on a wolf hunt."