Hiking

Within the Alps, hikers on the paths and cows within the pasture make for perilous pairings

As the helicopter took off with the victim, Pfurtscheller learned that a 45-year-old hiker from Germany had been brutally assaulted, sustaining grievous injuries to her chest and heart. The farmer was well acquainted with her killers: Bea, Flower, Raven and his other cows.

Across the Alps, such attacks once were a shocking rarity. No longer. Amid the sweeping economic changes jeopardizing farmers’ future, the creatures that for decades have defined the region’s landscape and culture — bovine stars of tourism campaigns — have become liabilities.

Another hiker was killed a year after the German woman died in 2014, and another in 2017. Statistics aren’t kept by Austrian, Swiss, Italian or French authorities, but media reports of incidents have become increasingly common. A young mother, her baby strapped to her back, was trampled; both lived. A couple was run off a cliff, surviving despite tumbling 50 feet.

Nowadays, signs warning tourists in German, English, French and Italian are ubiquitous: Cross pastures at your own risk. Hotels display brochures on how to stay safe. Olympic skiers and famous actors help to raise awareness in TV spots and online videos, often stressing “the mountain pasture is no petting zoo.” A pilot project in Switzerland will soon launch an app that hikers can use to track the location of free-roaming herds and steer clear.

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