Wolves Again

Here in the French Alps, wolves have been reported in the area for the last few years but I have never seen or heard anything of them until recently. Yesterday, my neighbour showed me where a red deer had been killed in our woods and I cannot find any other explanation apart from that it was wolves. One of the things that holds me back from saying outright it was a wolf kill though, is that it took place 5 minutes’ walk from my front door just off a path through the woods where there is a moderate amount of (human) activity during the summer and winter months. However, there is also a 50 foot barn not so far off, which houses around 60 sheep (and their lambs) all winter, which tbqh smells pretty pungent right now. We are at the end of a small valley with very steep (and wild) mountains on three sides and the open end has a gorge that pretty much cuts us off from the main town.

Unfortunately, not much of the actual deer was remaining when I got to it, but my neighbour told me that there was a piece of skin a foot square and many pieces of intestines at the site the day before yesterday as his dog had tried to eat some of it. It did look like a frenzy had taken place though; patches of blood all over the place, bits of excrement and there was a large impression in the snow that was lined with red deer fur. There were footprints of fox and dog and some larger dog paw shapes all around but nothing I could say was conclusively a wolf print (we get some big dogs wandering around here). There was one trail off up into the forest that had signs of blood on it (I am going to go and check it out today). It looked like many animals had visited the site to check it out and in fact ten days ago I came across the fresh hind leg of a deer (from the hip down) on the path 100m away from the kill site, which looked like it had been carried there by a fox (from the prints all around it) and literally was dropped just before I found it (because the ski pisteur had passed through only half an hour before and groomed the snow completely clean and the leg was on top of that snow).

Anyway, I did some research on the internet and apparently wolves kill their prey by either biting its rear end or ripping some skin off its side and pulling out its intestines so that the deer can still run, but bleeds to death along the trail and finally falls down so that the wolf can eat it. This would I say, correspond with what happened here. I can’t think of anything else that would have killed such a large deer in such a way apart from a lynx, which we also have here so the jury is still out. In addition, I’ve not heard any howls so if there are any wolves around there must be only one or two of them. And I remember another neighbour down the valley did tell me that she heard a lone wolf had attacked a dog near to her home.

In some ways, I don’t want to have conclusive evidence that it was a wolf/wolves, not that I would ever hope to get it, because the question is now, do I continue to go out before dawn and sit in my spot (which is very near to the kill site) thinking that every movement in the bushes is a wolf waiting to pounce on me? Totally irrational I know but I think as a society these fears are so deeply ingrained in us that its hard to shake them off and esp. in the UK (unlike America and Canada) we have got used to the idea of tramping around the forest knowing that we will not be attacked by anything of animal origin. Maybe we have become too blasé about it. Perhaps it should become a little dangerous out there again. I know that I now have got a heck of a lot of respect for those woods and of course I know that a wolf is not going to randomly jump out and attack me. It is just very, very interesting how all of a sudden my relationship with that place has changed, I hope in a good way.

I always loved Little Red Riding Hood as I thought the REAL meaning behind the story was to actually to let yourself be tempted off the path by a wolf. How exciting is that? Maybe they have a lot to teach us when we do decide to stray a little, live our lives with a little bit of danger and face our fears. And how amazing would it be to come face to face with a wolf in a kind of Tom Brown jr. situation where you could just observe it getting on with its life? What a story that would make.

The headline in the local newspaper today, seen in the supermarket just now.

“Wolves are returning and the farmers are worried”

le loup rapproche