Animal rights activists have threatened legal action against the national park that runs a group of islands off Italy’s Tuscan coast as controversy intensifies over the culling of rare mouflon sheep on the tiny island of Giglio.
Hunters arrived on Giglio this week and have so far killed four mouflons, a wild sheep native to the Caspian region, which are thought to be an ancestor of domestic sheep breeds.
There are 30 or so mouflons left on the island and authorities granted permission to kill the animals as part of an EU-funded project after they were deemed to be a threat to the island’s biodiversity.
Animal rights groups, which have appealed to the European parliament’s environment committee, say this argument is false and the animals should instead be transferred and given sanctuary off the island.
Giglio comes under the authority of the Tuscan archipelago national park, which comprises seven islands including Elba, where mouflon sheep also roam free.
Animal activists are urging citizens to boycott Giglio during the Christmas holidays, and also Elba, over fears the cull could be extended there. It is unclear how many mouflon sheep are present across the archipelago, but Corriere della Sera reported that more than 2,000 have been killed since 1997. A petition to stop the current cull has been signed by more than 15,000 people.
Mouflons were brought to Giglio by a private landowner in the early 1960s and kept in a reserve until the owner abandoned the facility and the animals escaped.
Sergio Ortelli, the mayor of Giglio, said their number has proliferated over the years and that while he supported the idea of transferring them off the island, he had to act swiftly after receiving several complaints from farmers about damage to their land. He said even if the animals were transferred to mainland Italy, they could still be legally hunted as they are not a protected species.
“This is a legitimate project. I don’t get why there is all this pantomime,” he said. “The animals are not indigenous to Giglio and they can be legally hunted, like wild boar.”
LAV, Italy’s anti-vivisection league, said it would take legal action unless the killing stops within the next 24 hours. LAV said the animals could instead be taken to the San Rossore wildlife reserve in Tuscany.
“The reserve is available to take the animals,” said Claudia Squadroni, a spokesperson for LAV. “Therefore, if an alternative to killing the animals exists, then it’s against the law to kill them.”
Ortelli said: “This is a democracy, and taking legal action is legitimate … but then we will see what a judge thinks.”