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As the sun sets over the southern French Alps on a cool evening in early June, a flock of sheep huddle in an enclosure at an altitude of 1,500 metres.
Next to them, two khaki-clad watchmen settle down for the night in the Mercantour National Park on the border with Italy, equipped with thermal-vision cameras, warm jackets and a rifle with a night-vision scope.
“What’s going to be important for the next few hours is to be attentive all the time. For a wolf to cross (the pass) takes two or three seconds. If we aren’t watching, it’s over,” one of the guards said.
The pair are part of France’s “wolf brigade”, employed by the state to protect livestock from a predator that was hunted to extinction in France in the early 20th