I knew that something momentous had happened when my friend impatiently brushed aside my enquiries about the amount of snow and the weather on his recent skiing holiday in the French Alps. Clearly what had happened had so impressed him that it was obvious that there would be no skiing information forthcoming until he had told me what it was.
He had left the Three Valleys ski resort of Courcheval 1850 at three in the morning to start the long drive back to the Channel Tunnel. After thirty minutes of twists and turns down the mountain side he arrived on the outskirts of the town of Moutiers. He grumbled to his sleepy companion that some compensation for the nausea the drive had caused would have been sight of any nocturnal wildlife but nothing had revealed itself.
Unbelievably no sooner had the grumble left his lips than the outline of a shadowy creature came into view on the empty road ahead of him. Initially he thought it was a deer given courage by the safety of darkness to venture out of the forest and graze on the verge, but as he grew closer and the creature turned nonchalantly and almost arrogantly to trot towards him he took in a sharp intake of breath.
There was no mistaking the height, width of the shoulders, thick coat and long bushy tail. He had just come face to face with a wolf. As if annoyed at being seen and imperious in its dismissal of my friend’s value or threat, it paused defiantly to take in the scene before with a contemptuous swish of the tail easily cleared the crash barrier and disappeared into the anonymity of the forest.
I was inspired by my friend’s sheer delight and enthusiasm at what he had seen to find out more about these French wolves. It appears that they were deliberately eradicated in the 1930s but started to reappear as migrants from Italy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.By 2015 their population was estimated at 282 and set to continue increasing. They have even prompted the creation of a new travel experience called a wolf tracking minibreak. As these holidays stress that they cannot guarantee that you will see a wolf, my friend was seriously impressed with the value of his ski break that had contained a complimentary and confirmed wolf sighting.
Unfortunately not all are happy at the return of these magnificent creatures to their mountain home. Despite the availability of deer and wild boar the wolves obviously find it difficult to ignore the sheep that graze the uplands. The sheep are either killed or fatally wounded and have to be destroyed, or die accidently in numbers by running over cliffs as they are pursued or spooked by the wolves. French farmers have become very angry at the numbers that are being killed and we know from experience that French farmers do not do angry quietly. Despite the wolf’s protected status they launched a successful campaign to introduce a limited cull and at one point even kidnapped the President of a National Park to achieve their aim.
For the friends and family of my friend it is a tiring time as he continues to share his tale and struggle to find the words fit to convey the majesty of such a creature and how he felt to see it. He has hoped in vain for years to see an otter in the wild without success, but it seems that frustration has abated with the wolf sighting which he says trumps everything.
I am struck more with wonder at these wild creatures living alongside the fast living high tech frenzy that is twenty first century life. Unfortunately as every living creature knows both human and non -human such freedom is always at someone’s cost and that like others some wolves will pay for that freedom with their lives.
Revisit the French Alps with the timetraveller in Everything you need to know about skiing in one place-Perfect!
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