/ Wolves in the Alps

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smr on 02 Sep 2014
The presence of wolves in the Alps has been discussed on here before, and the species has gradually being increasing its range in France since making a return to the country around the early 1990s. However, with a total estimated population in France of perhaps 200-250 you donít really expect to see one whilst out in the mountains.

Whilst wild camping a couple of weeks ago at around 2600m just north of the Mercantour National Park a lone wolf loped past our tent in broad daylight (c.0900) about 70-80m away, remaining in full view for around 2 minutes. It took a calm interest in us, checking us out regularly as it went past but apparently without deviating from its route in the slightest. I was struck by its confidence and long-legged, effortless progress over relatively rough ground. The wolf didnít appear threatened by our presence, nor us by it. It stopped once or twice at the toe of a nearby boulder slope (sniffing marmots?) before disappearing from view. Although my two companions or I had never seen a wolf in the wild before, none of us were in any doubt at all about what it was, despite best efforts to try to construe it as something else.

Grazing pasture both below and above us perhaps explained why it was in the area, and in turn why we had seen a large flock of sheep being escorted downhill by a shepherd and his 4 Pyrenean Mountain Dogs the evening before as we walked up. Subsequent investigation back in the valley revealed that wolves have been seen in the area before.

It was a huge privilege to glimpse this iconic animal but it has subsequently occurred to me that it may, subtly, change my perception of the Alps. Objectively, there does not appear to be any threat to humans, but Iíve since started to wonder what would have happened if the encounter had been more abrupt - with less time to weigh each other up, or if my daughter (aged 10) who was with us at the time had met it whilst exploring away from our camp by herself, as she sometimes does. I still donít think there was any real risk but perhaps the incident has stirred some deep residual instinct that is hard to shake off totally.

Anyone else had a similar experience?
Clint86 - on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

No but I've just read George Monbiot's book about rewilding which I found good.
Mark Bannan - on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

Not encountered a wolf myself. Would love to (I am a keen amateur naturalist and have a Zoology degree), but they are well known to be very wary of humans.

I once saw reliable statistics for Spain for the 20th century: number of fatal attacks by wolves - 2, number by stray dogs - 100.

Personally, having had 4 trips to the Alps, stonefall and glacier crossings are far more trouser-filling than the prospect of meeting a "big bad" wolf.
Bruce Hooker - on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

> Anyone else had a similar experience?

Yes, just N of La Grave, but in winter. I was struggling up a gulley on skis when I came across some dog tracks, but I thought a big dog, and up here in the snow? Then a saw it a few hundred yards ahead of me, sitting and looking over it's shoulder at me. Thinking he knew better than me I followed it's tracks and then it moved off, not hurried, as you describe. Then after a bit it stopped and looked back a bit. This continued until it must have thought I was up ok and then it just wandered off out of sight. It was light grey and the general atmosphere was quite special, no feeling of fear, quite friendly in fact. Very moving.

Later on I asked a local and he said there were wolves up there, it was probably looking for the carcass of a sheep or cow that had fallen down the gulley.
Dauphin - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

Great story. And a bump.

D
ewar woowar on 03 Sep 2014
Minneconjou Sioux - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

I have encountered wolves here in Canada from a vehicle and followed tracks on foot in the snow.

I have no worries about a face to face encounter with wolves. They are not known for attacks on humans.

Now bears on the other hand...........
AlanLittle - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

I don't know if I have or not. There are no wolves known to be resident in the Bavarian Alps, but there were reports a couple of years back of sightings of one that had wandered in from the Italy, where there is a population.

I was out for a run in the woods in the area, when *a fairly large animal* broke cover out of some undergrowth in front of me and ran away at high speed. At the time I thought oh look, a rather big and somewhat greyish fox. And I was probably right. But I do wonder.
Trevers - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to AlanLittle:

> I don't know if I have or not. There are no wolves known to be resident in the Bavarian Alps, but there were reports a couple of years back of sightings of one that had wandered in from the Italy, where there is a population.

There is a colony of ibex in the Bavarian Alps. Apparently one lone male wandered over from the Italian Alps and liked it there, so they bought in several females, and now there's a thriving population in one small area. Gave me quite a shock to meet one face on the first day of a trekking holiday!

It doesn't seem beyond the realms of possibility for the same to occur with wolves.
Pete Houghton - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

There were claims, a couple of summers ago, of there being a wolf in the Foret des Jeurs above Lavancher here in Chamonix, but things have been silent on that front ever since so I guess it must have wandered off.

I was out on a run yesterday, and must have come across at least twenty chamois and twenty ibex over the whole day, the chamois panicking at first sight of you and tearing down the hillside screaming their heads off, and the ibex just sitting there on the path, tutting quietly and asking "Look... can't you just go around?" before grudgingly shuffling a few metres out of the way. Very chill beasts.

One ibex, however, was an emaciated bag of ribs and hips, limping, with a distinctly detached feel to the way it watched the world. Although it didn't look particularly old, it looked to be on its last legs, and in dire need of an apex predator. A local wolf, or a small family unit, would fit the niche perfectly.

Wolves in the Alps are a good thing - they help prevent the suffering of the old, the sick, and the starving.
James Gilbert on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

Apparently there are now 300 wolves in France and the number is gradually increasing. However, they might not be around for much longer, as the Minister for Ecology wants to get her rifle out: http://www.liberation.fr/societe/2014/06/28/segolene-royal-veut-relancer-la-chasse-au-loup_1052804
cander - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:
Yep - just a fleeting glimpse though - driving between La roche-sur-foron and St Laurent a very large grey dog jumped out in front of the car and crossed over and disappeared into the hedge - excellent
It wasn't a dog - it was a wolf that was part of the pack up on the glieres plateau
Post edited at 08:46
markh554 on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

At last, a genuinely interesting post! Being scared of dogs, I think if I saw a wolf I'd need new trousers!
Robert Durran - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

There is an interesting article about wolves (and bears and lynx) in Europe (including the Alps) in a very recent New Scientist.
cb294 - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to AlanLittle:

There are wolves again all over Germany, but established breeding packs are mostly confined to the extreme East along the Polish border. I saw one running across a field right next to the Dresden-Berlin motorway, and finding wolf tracks or scat is really easy.

A zoologist friend working for a coservation agency told me that they have DNA or camera trap evidence documenting the presence of wolves - mostly single young male animals - in most wooded and/or hilly areas, even up to the Sauerland near Cologne. However, they have stopped reporting any sightings as local hunters would (illegaly) kill the wolves immediately.

CB
ring ouzel on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

The group I co-ordinated many years ago wrote the National Action Plan for wolves in France. We did extensive surveying of people beforehand. Most people thought there were 200-300 wolves in France and were happy with that. There were in fact about a dozen wolves at that time.

I have watched wolves in Romania and I have been in enclosures with wolves several times, if you understand wolf behaviour they are easy to deal with.

I also saw footage of a drunk man walking along a street in Brasov, Romania one night. One of the local wolves was also walking along the street in his direction. We had radio collared the wolf and he must have thought it was a dog as he stopped and was obviously saying the Romanian of 'nice doggy' to the wolf. The wolf gave him a look of disdain then kept on walking down the street. History shows they have much more to fear from us than we have from them.
AlanLittle - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to cb294:

> There are wolves again all over Germany, but established breeding packs are mostly confined to the extreme East along the Polish border.

Supposed to have been a pack in the Bayerischen Wald the whole time too.
Bruce Hooker - on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to mh554:

> At last, a genuinely interesting post! Being scared of dogs, I think if I saw a wolf I'd need new trousers!

There's no need to carry spare trousers, they won't attack you in normal circumstances, especially when it's just a single wolf. I was reading an oldish book about the wild life in Seine et Marne, the department with Fontainebleau Forest in it, and wolves were listed as common mammals in it, along with foxes and boars, and yet at the time, about 1850 IIRC there were no reports of humans being attacked by wolves.

Wolves are reckoned to be at present about 150kms from Paris and could well be back in Seine et Marne in the next year or so, but it's nothing to worry about ... unless you're a sheep that is :-) Place names containing the word "loup" are quite common so it is very much a case of wolves coming back, not anything new. Leave fear of invasion from the East to other scaremongers!
smr on 03 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

Thanks for the comments. Long may they thrive around the world as far as I'm concerned.
NottsRich on 04 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

> Thanks for the comments. Long may they thrive around the world as far as I'm concerned.

Completely agree.

How do the European wolves compare in size to those in Yellowstone? The few I saw there were huge!
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cb294 - on 04 Sep 2014
In reply to NottsRich:


> How do the European wolves compare in size to those in Yellowstone? The few I saw there were huge!


Smaller, especially the populations in Italy and the rest of Southern Europe. Northern and Eastern European animals tend to be big as well. Keep in mind, though, that even in Alaska or the Yellowstone there is not too much wolf hidden in all that fur.

CB

goose299 - on 04 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

Never seen a wild wolf. Very jealous of the guys who've said they have though
jcw on 05 Sep 2014
In reply to Minneconjou Sioux:

I was walking in the woods above Les Bossons the other day and met a young couple with the girl very worried about encountering wolves and bears. After explaining the origin of the name Valorcine I reassured them that they were no more likely to see either species than they would cows in Chamonix nowadays!
Bruce Hooker - on 05 Sep 2014
In reply to jcw:

There's cows at the top of Chamonix valley, heading towards Switzerland, an they've got big bells on 'em.
jcw on 05 Sep 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Yeah I know, I knew someone would say that. But are they in in Chamonix or Vallorcine territory? In an case, they are a reintroduced species -: )
Daysleeper - on 06 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

If your interested in the French Alps wolves, Undiscovered Alps in the Ecrins do wolf tracking trips. Though I'm always wondering what happens if you stop being the tracker and start being the tracked. (I have no association with them other than using them to arrange a couple of family summer holidays)
Minneconjou Sioux - on 06 Sep 2014
In reply to Daysleeper:

Up here in Prince Albert national park, the rangers will take you out on a "wolf howl" at night.

Basically everyone drives out into the boonies and a ranger mimics a wolf and tries to get a real one to answer. It does work.
Tim Chappell - on 06 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:
I haven't seen one, but going up the path from Zinal to the Tracuit Hut once we were overtaken by some guys with rifles. And five minutes later we stopped to talk to some climbers who were coming down from the hut, and they pointed after the men with guns and said "On a dit qu'il y aie un loup, la' en haut". "Et on va le fusiller?" we asked. --"Bien sŻr."
Post edited at 16:18
LaMentalist on 06 Sep 2014
In reply to smr:

I was in Morzine on a mountain biking trip a few years ago , when around midnight I was peering out of our chalet window and saw a large old gruff looking wolf trying to search through the wheelie bins close to our chalet , I told a couple of the other lads inside but they were too drunk to be interested .

Myself and another lad Josh went outside with camera phones working and followed it slowly for around 200 yards ( I still have the very poor 2megapixel recording on the crappy old motorola somewhere ).

The poor old blighter didn't look very healthy , he was aware of Josh & I but was more concerned about finding food . He eventually sauntered back up into the mountains . We would of tracked it for longer but were both injured at the time .
aln - on 06 Sep 2014
In reply to Pete Houghton:

> Wolves in the Alps are a good thing - they help prevent the suffering of the old, the sick, and the starving.

They'd be great for sheltered housing complexes and care homes.

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