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A spade-wielding Frenchman has become an internet sensation after images of him chasing animal rights activists in his underpants went viral online. Members of France's birds' protection league (LPO) came under attack as they intruded a cornfield in Audon, in the Landes region of western France, to destroy illegal traps set for chaffinches.

As they set off to liberate the protected birds, under the eyes of a group of journalists, they were charged by a local man, who rushed out of his home in underpants brandishing a spade. A second belligerent local soon joined the fray holding another farming tool and police had to be called to restore order.

"People came at us with violence, we were hit three or four times with a spade," LPO president Allain Bougrain-Dubourg told AFP. The activists said they reported a few bruises, had the tires of their vehicles slashed and some equipment, including cameras, damaged during the 15 minute confrontation.

They filed a complaint with police adding that, despite the commotion, they were able to free some 20 chaffinches from their cages. However, the reluctant man of the hour was the scantily dressed attacker who became an instant celebrity online. Photos of him were shared thousands of times on social media, becoming the subject of endless spoof tweets and memes under the hashtag "SlipGate" (French for UnderpantsGate).