Our first day off from work, at our new home, in Mont Lozere, Cavènnes, was spent visiting the wolf sanctuary, Les Loups, Du Gevaudan, a two hour drive away.
As we do live the-most-part of up a mountain, to get anywhere does take a while, it took us just over two hours to get there, driving through Mont, and just past Marvejoles.
Unsure what to expect at a wolf sanctuary, I assumed we’d require binoculars to spot the few wolves amongst foliage, and perhaps take a safari through a reserve or something… I was thoroughly surprised on arrival, to find the park held 100 wolves, in a “semi-freedom” situation, fenced into medium sized captivity. I was even more surprised to walk into the park and find myself staring at a huge Canadian wolf basking in the sun beside the fence.
The park was opened by Gérard Ménatory in 1985 with the purpose of reintroducing wild wolves into France. However with too strong an opposition from local shepherds and the ingrained fear of wolves in society, this aim had to be deserted. Now, the majority of the wolves in the park were born there.
Throughout the park there are information boards about the differentiation between the different wolf breeds present within the park, factual information about how wolves operate in a pack, their physical differences and information on how wolves are treated within France today.
Today, there are 70-90 wolves living in the French Alps, thought to have migrated from the Italian Alps.
Shepard’s and farmers are given permission to kill wolves which are caught near livestock, however if their livestock is attacked by wolves, the government provides compensation.
This unfair negative reputation wolves have in France is brought to the attention of visitors, with educational pamphlets provided in English and French stating “There is no proof of a wolf attack on a human adult.” Among other useful information.
While walking round the park we saw Canadian, Mongolian, and Siberian wolves. The sheer enormity of them is impressive, for me the size of their heads in particular, differentiated them from large dogs, and their eyes which glow yellow out of the darkness at you. But even so, they did resemble dogs more so than I thought they would… Some wagging their tails, some panting as they frolicked…Looking like they just wanted to play!
However after hearing a growl from one, I quickly changed my mind… “They are predators which kill to eat.” As the pamphlet says.
And I’m just a giant walking steak…
The most impressive were the Siberian wolves, their crystal white coat signifying them as definitely NOT a dog, and they were slightly bigger than the Mongolian and Canadian wolves.
The size of the enclosures was a bit sad, the Siberian wolves would just pace round and round… Making you dizzy just watching them. But compared to most ‘zoo’ environments it’s done in a way which allows visitors to view the majority of the wolves with 360 access points round the enclosures, so even if they are hiding away you still have a chance to spot them through the foliage.
Over all, we thoroughly enjoyed it, our €6 each was well spent and we even went away with a few wolf posters to decorate our room.
Seeing a wolf up close is very exciting, all those movies where wolves attack sprung to mind as I peered at them 1 metre away, feeling so safe, on the other side of the fence.