The Wolf(Canis lupus)

Arrived in 1992 in Vésubie (Alpes-Maritimes), the wolf, coming from Italy, today settled almost everywhere in the Alps. If its installation remains fragile, the wolf, long invisible, is now showing on the ridges and out the edge of the villages. It must be said that there are now about twenty breeding packs, including 14 in the PACA region. It is not surprising that the Monts d’Azur reserve is located in the heart of the Cheiron pack, one of the five packs in the Alpes-Maritimes department. Several indices also confirm his passage in the reserve.

Ancestral cohabitation with Man

Hunter-gatherers have long shared the same territories as the wolf. This ancient cohabitation is evidenced by the bones of wolves found on sites occupied by humans : Tautavel or in the cave of Lazaret in Nice.

The wolf was the first animal domesticated by the nomadic peoples of the Arctic more than 12,000 years ago. This meeting shows a mutual fascination.

Hard to imagine that humans could, at the time, see in the wolf a danger for their survival, while they collected the orphaned cubs to entrust them to the women of the clan! This is how the “first dogs” appeared.

Thousands of wolves killed in France in one year

Only recently have rural societies, in the service of political and religious power, engaged in one of the most active and effective persecutions that man has inflicted on a living being. Between 1797 and 1798, 12,000 to 14,000 wolves were killed in France, at a time when rifles were rare. In 1850, their population was estimated between 3,000 and 7,000 adults.

A law was passed in 1882 to exterminate them. He disappeared from France in 1939.

However, man has never managed to eliminate them completely in Europe. Its survival and adaptation potential defends it better than any other action in its favor. And after an absence of more than 50 years, the wolf is back in the Alps.

The great return

Arrived in 1992 in Vésubie (Alpes-Maritimes), the wolf, coming from Italy, today settled almost everywhere in the Alps. With ” forefront” in the Massif Central, the Pyrenees, and the Vosges.

Even if  its installation remains fragile, the wolf, long invisible, is now showing on the ridges and at the edge of the villages. It must be said that there are now about twenty breeding packs, including 14 in the PACA region. It is not surprising that the Monts d’Azur reserve is located in the heart of the Cheiron pack, one of the five packs in the Alpes-Maritimes department. After Mont Ventoux and Montagne de Lure, colonization continues in the Sainte-Baume massif (Var and Bouches du Rhône). Dispersion is, in fact, the key to the life of the pack.

The Cheiron pack marks its passage in the Animal Reservation of the Monts d’Azur with the  presence of prey killed and “cleaned” (especially deer and sometimes wild boar). Traces on a path, tracks in the snow and sometimes feces confirm his passage. The screams of the pack, accompanied by young  of the year, are frequently heard around the Reserve.

The return of this great carnivore implies an increased surveillance of the herds but also the presence of dogs and protective nets. Even if these measures are sometimes badly experienced by the shepherds, they are still effective. They have proved their worth in Italy and Spain where cohabitation is much more peaceful than in France.

life in a pack

The social life of the wolf is organized around the dominant couple, called “alpha couple”. Only one to reproduce, it is he who organizes the hierarchy and activities of the pack, accompanied by a mature adult male or female.

In the Alps, the pack usually consists of two to three adults, with youngsters of the year. The “historic” packs of the Mercantour count from five to seven individuals, exceptionally ten. Their size varies with the number of available prey.

The life of the pack is centered entirely on the care and feeding of the young, hunting and the defense of the home range. The latter covers 200 to 300 km². The births take place from the end of March to mid-May. Weaned around the age of 8 to 10 weeks, the Cubs leave the den for the “rendez-vous” site. Still too small to follow the adults, it is on this site that they will wait for the return of the hunt, alone or under the supervision of an adult. The rendez-vous site is abandoned in early fall.

Is his future secure?

The young wolves leave the parental territory around 2 years old. They will travel tens of kilometers to find a congenere and a territory available and found a new pack. This explains why, in twenty years, the wolf was able to settle in most of the alpine departments, in Lozère and even in the eastern Pyrenees. Protected by the Bern Convention and the Habitats Directive, the wolf comes to France to be removed from the list of endangered species. It is expanding and gaining ground, taking advantage of the increase in wild ungulate populations, the growth of the forest, and the decline of the rural world. Is his future assured as well ?

the wolf, an opportunistic carnivore

An opportunistic carnivore, he adjusts his menu to the territory he occupies. Large wild ungulates are preferred: deer, chamois, roe deer and wild boar. Without disdaining the smaller prey in the summer, hares, rabbits and small rodents, or carrion during harsh winters.

It is estimated that the average number of large ungulates killed by a pack in one year is between 50 to 70. For the record, the population of wild ungulates has multiplied by ten in 30 years in France. More than 40,000 red deer and 500,000 deer are killed by hunters each year.

In any case, it goes for the easiest kill, avoiding excessive risk taking by quickly abandoning the pursuit of prey deemed too vigorous. That explains  his taste, during summer, for poorly protected flocks.

Live together in peace

Know the wolf better to protect yourself and live in peace together.

Large predators have a key role in balancing ecosystems. They are the safest guarantees of the good health of the herds of wild herbivores, by eliminating the sick and weak at an early age. They also contribute to the protection of overgrazed natural areas by causing the dispersal of their prey.

Will we be able to share with them a part of our rural territories or will we continue to treat them as pests? The question remains in France while our German, Italian or Spanish neighbors have shown that it is possible to conceive of reciprocal cohabitation, with environmental benefits and tourist benefits largely offsetting agricultural losses. In the US, tourism services estimate a $ 35 million income annually because of  the presence of the wolf in Yellowstone Park!

Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)

The Eurasian Lynx comes back from near death  in our country. It was  almost exterminated in France, at the beginning of the XXth century! It is to the Swiss naturalists that we owe this return. At the end of the 70s, fourteen adults were reintroduced in the Swiss Jura. The success is such that we find in the mid-80s, this cat in the department of Ain. To reinforce this colonization, about twenty individuals have been  introduced in the Vosges since 1983. There does not seem to be any exchange yet between the two herds.

All totaled, the Eurasian lynx in France is estimated at less than 200 adults. In other words, it remains very fragile in the face of numerous human pressures.

The observations of an individual, then a female followed, made in the Alpes-Maritimes, between Mons, Fayence and Thorenc in 2007, are among the most southern of the alpine arc. Many mysteries still remain on the resorts and travel this feline have during installation.

A discreet and lonely forest animal

The lynx is an animal that lives solitary year-round in an area ranging from 90 km2 (35 square miles) for a female to 250 km2 (97 square miles) for a male. Discreet animal, it seldom leaves the forest cover and is reluctant to venture out over long distances. It moves in favor of wooded corridors, regularly borrowing tracks or forest roads. He is eager to find the rocky bars that offer him shelters or lairs, provided that his favorite prey abound!

Deer, favorite prey of the lynx

The Eurasian lynx has its favorite prey, the deer, like the house cat with the mouse. It is therefore not surprising that his return accompanied the spectacular increase in numbers of this ungulate.

The lynx eats about 1 to 3 kg (2 to 6.6 pounds)of meat a day. This represents about 60 ungulates per year (deer 70%, buff 20%, other prey 10% including fox).

Hunter on the lookout it leaps at a very short distance on its prey and kills it, after having cut it with its anterior, by a bite to the throat or the nape of the neck. The muscles of the thighs and the liver are consumed in priority (three observations). This makes the difference with the wolf that opens the rib cage first (six observations).

The lynx can return to its prey to consume several days in a row. The skin is then gradually rolled up towards the head.

brief wedding

Males and females are only together for the mating season in February-March. The night then resounds with brief and powerful roaring, “WAaaou”, cried by the male (heard twice 2009 and 2010). The nuptials are brief and last only a few days. The couplings remain lively and restless and from these hugs, the female often receives bites on the spine.

The female will raise  two to three young alone, returning to her lair after night hunts in the first weeks. Then she will change her shelter regularly. It is easier for her to move her young than to transport killed prey!

A high-risk emancipation

Emancipation of young  is sudden, from January to April, when the next breeding season arrives. The female then pushes them to leave her territory. The most critical period of lynx life. Still little experienced in hunting, they must learn to survive in unknown places and to face multiple dangers. Deaths are common on roads and railways. It is also possible that undernourished and weakened individuals are collected near homes as in the Jura in 2009.

Feline presence in Thorenc

The presence of the lynx on the Biological Reserve of the Monts d’Azur and its surroundings has only recently been confirmed: observation of a female and a young in 2007, carcasses of deer killed and eaten in 2006, 2007 and 2008 .

A group of deer, made up of a dozen individuals, was suddenly dislocated during the winter of 2008-2009. No doubt the permanent presence of a female followed. During the winter of 2009, regular calls from a male under the rock bars at the tree line, traces in the snow and a deer corpse with skin rolled up on the head were reported by our guides. How to surprise the invisible prowler … To do this, a photographic trap has just been installed. Because a doubt remains on who is observed: the feline … or a man?

the red foxVulpes vulpes

The red fox is present everywhere in the world and in all environments. His faculties of adaptation appear limitless and his mind remarkably sharpened. Small (35 cm (14 inches)at the withers), it hides under a thick fur whose tones vary from brown to yellow.

Common species if any

The male fox marks its territory with its feces (droppings) but also powerful nocturnal appeal, particularly audible in February.

After 8 weeks gestation, the fox calves three to seven cubs, in a burrow more or less arranged by her care. It is not uncommon for the fox to exploit the skills of the badger’s digger, by settling in the high parts of the burrow of one of these mustelids. Born blind, the young will stay in the burrow for 2 to 3 weeks. They will come out in good weather to play while the mother hunts. Born blind, the young will stay in the burrow for 2 to 3 weeks.

Mother returns to breastfeed regularly and,with their advancing age,she brings them small prey. Soon they will begin to follow her in her travels and will learn the hard job of predator.

The red fox, adaptable and a rat exterminator

The fox is an opportunistic animal, able to adapt to all situations. Its habitat ranges from dense forests, to grasslands and to the heart of cities. Where he has become because of  his skill, a valuable auxiliary of the rat extermination services ! On the Reserve, even if it happens to steal some shoes, it mainly hunts small rodents, birds but also grasshoppers! In autumn, it enjoys wild fruits: blackberries, raspberries or rosehip berries.

Your roommate

Discrete animal but curious, he does not hesitate to enter at night in the lodges. The baggage of our visitors is then carefully inspected and beware of the badly stowed shoe… They will end up in the burrow!

That says, it is a pleasant companion to watch especially when hunting. He then alternates cautious movements and spectacular leaps that allow him to capture a multitude of prey, even the smallest.

badgerMeles meles

As common as the fox

It occupies all Europe except the most northern territories. With a preference for forests where he is more at ease than in the grasslands.


There are many writings that relate it to a miniature bear. Its paces, heavy gait, dentition and even its rhythm of life which includes a half winter sleep could be related to the great European carnivore. But the badger is a mustelid, like the weasel. And if he is carnivorous, it is modestly.

He is robust, well muscled and reaches the 25 kg (55 pounds). It has short  and powerful legs. Especially the anterior who, armed with powerful nails, allow him to dig his burrows.

but a little more of a homebody

The badger is somewhat routine. This allows for good observations when the burrow is located. He lives there with his family. Rutting takes place in the middle of summer and births occur in February while the mother is holed up for the winter period. The little ones will finish their development out of side the belly of their mother.

Adults can come out of their burrows as early as February. The little ones will wait for the beginning of spring. As for the fox, the observation of the young is, then, particularly entertaining. The rolled balls accompanied by small grunts make these moments magic.

The badger is a very clean animal. Its burrow is cleaned daily and the entry does not show the traces of the last feasts as it is often the case for the fox. The badger goes as far as digging small holes in the ground to deposit these droppings.

A very diverse diet

The badger is an omnivore. In summer and autumn, its diet consists of insects, worms, snails, many plants, bulbs and roots and small sweets such as fruits, honey and mushrooms.

Occasionally, it consumes frogs, reptiles – including vipers – small mammals such as field mice, a few broods … In the Reserve, he remains discreet except during the mating season when  he gets , at night, closer to homes and jostles anything lying around!

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