Hikers and walkers in France have been warned by authorities not to come too close to herds of cattle after an 85-year-old man was killed in the Pyrenees mountains by a stampeding cow. “Cattle are not domestic animals,” stated local officials. The charging bovine also wounded four other people, including two small children aged three and five, while climbing the Col d’Azet mountain in the Hautes-Pyrénées region on Tuesday, according to The Local newspaper. The walking party apparently came too close to a herd of cows when one of the beasts, accompanied by her calf, bolted and attacked the elderly hiker. He was taken to a hospital in the city of Pau where he expired. The other members of the hiking group were also hospitalized.
“The cows came down from the higher pastures, crossed the path of the walkers and charged into the group and into this man, who was knocked to the ground,” Major Pascal Sancho, a member of the local mountain rescue centre in the nearby town of Saint-Lary-Soulan, told France’s RTL radio. “It was probably the fall that caused his death because he was not gored or trampled.”
In the summer months, thousands of hikers come to the scenic mountain passes of the Pyrenees as well as the Alps and the Auvergne regions of France. However, too many of these visitors do not realize that the seemingly benign and docile cows they see are actually dangerous creatures. In 2010, two hikers were killed by charging cattle in separate incidents in the Pyrenees and Alps. “There must be a certain distance and do not approach them [cows]. They are not pets,” added Sancho. “When you see that they are heading in a particular direction it is best to give them priority.”
In this incident, it was apparent that the rampaging cow thought her calf was in danger. “It must be remembered that mothers are protective of their young,” Sancho said.
Deaths by cattle trampling are more common than one might think. Last year, a 68-year-old woman who was walking her dog in a rural field in Wiltshire, in the southwest of England, was trampled to death by cows. Several people across Britain have been gravely injured, even killed, by stampeding and charging bovine over the years. In the early summer of 2012, a 46-year-old male hiker in County Durham in the northwest of England, suffered life-threatening injuries after he was trampled by cows. The man suffered a fractured skull and chest injuries in the incident. "He and his wife were just walking on a public footpath when they were attacked by cows,” said a local ambulance official. "He climbed over a stile [set of steps] on to the other side of the stone wall, then he just collapsed. His wife somehow escaped uninjured. He's done very well to get up and get away from them. How he's got out alive, I do not know. He's very, very sick."
Four years ago, the deaths of four people trampled by cows within a period of two months led Britain’s principal farming union to issue a warning. The National Farmers Union (NFU) said in a statement that cows can become dangerous, especially in the presence of their calves, or if human walkers are accompanied by dogs. "The cattle are interested in the dog, not the walker," said Robert Sheasby, rural surveyor at the NFU. "As the cattle try to get the dog, there's a high chance they will get the walker too.”
In that summer of 2009, a veterinary surgeon named Liz Crowsley was crushed to death by a mob of cows in the Pennine Hills, while walking with her two dogs. In Derbyshire, a 65-year-old man named Barry Pilgrim was trampled to death by a cow. Soon afterwards, near Cardiff, Wales, a 63-year-old woman named Anita Hinchey, who was also walking her dog, met a similar fate. In the fourth such attack, a 75-year-old farmer named Harold Lee was killed by his own herd of cows in the hamlet of Burtle in the West Country. Reportedly, the cows may have become unnerved by the sound of a passing ambulance siren.
Perhaps the most high-profile incident of a cow attack occurred in June 2009 when the former Home Secretary David Blunkett was badly injured after cow charged at him and his guide dog in a field in England's Peak District. The NFU and the Ramblers' Association (a British charity that promotes hiking) both cautioned that when passing through a cow field, walkers should release dogs from their leashes. NFU also noted that the risk of cow-trampling is especially high in the spring, when calves are very young and their mothers are extraordinarily protective. "It has to do with spring and autumn calving," said Sheasby. "In the autumn, cattle will be coming into winter housing but in spring you want them out grazing the grass."
Reuters reported that Britain has about 7.5 million cows, about one-ninth the number of humans.
In a blog called RickRidesHorses, the author warns that cows are very fast, heavy, powerful creatures and many people are unable to escape the advance of a herd. An estimated 20 people are killed in the U.S. by cows annually, he added. Rick suggests the following measures to avoid being trampled to death by the creatures: avoid entering fields with cows; let go of your dog if cows charge; don't try to outrun cows; run downhill if it's possible; and make yourself as loud and big as possible.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.