If you thought you heard the howls of a wolf in parkland in the suburbs to the south of Paris, then you may not have been imagining things.
Indeed, two separate wolf-watching groups have joined forces to say they're convinced that three wolves are establishing themselves in the greater Paris region.
“We are certain that there are three in circulation since April last year, one couple and another lone wolf,” Manoël Atman, the president of the wolf-watching group Alliance avec les loups, told The Local.
Atman together with the another wolf-watching group, the Observatoire du loup, told Le Parisien newspaper
that the wolves were roaming across the departments of Yvelines and Essonne, while another was in the nearby Seine-et-Marne.
The research groups, which include geographers and biologists, have collected evidence including reports of characteristic wolf howling, sightings of paw prints, and the discovery of wolf droppings.
There were also findings in late December of two deer carcasses found in the Rambouillet Forest (see map below) in such a state that the experts deduced it could only have been wolves responsible.
“Their spinal columns were broken, they weren't shot or hit in a collision,” Atman said, adding that their vital organs had been eaten and that they were taken by the throat.
“This is typical of the predatory habits of wolves.”
He added that the wooded areas in the southern departments of Greater Paris were “perfect” for a wolf and offered sufficient biodiversity for them.
But there's no need to worry if you're planning on taking a walk in the woods, he added.
“There's no risk for people, these wolves come from Italy, they're much smaller than their cousins in central Europe. They're only around 25 kilos,” he told The Local.
“These kinds of animals aren't interested in eating people. We walk on two legs, they only eat four-legged animals.”
The map below shows the spread of wolves in France, according to the Observatoire du loup group
. A closer look at the entire Paris region is on the right.
Orange areas, mostly in the eastern and southern reaches of the country, show where wolves are “established and reproducing”.
Red signifies an area “under dispersion”, meaning one or more wolves has been seen in the area and doesn't appear to be moving on. The map on the right, giving a closer look at Paris, shows that the three southernmost departments are all in the red area (Yvelines, Essonne, and Seine-et-Marne).
Elsewhere, blue means “absolutely” no presence of wolves, grey is “probably dispersion”, and green is “under surveillance with possible wolf presence”.
Concerns have been raised in France before that wolves have been moving ever-closer to Paris
. Last year, a lone wolf was spotted 250km from the capital, with an expert saying that wolves can move up to 40 kilometres a day and aren't afraid of human infrastructure like motorways.
Once plentiful, the wolf officially died out in France in the 1930s, wiped out by farmers and hunters.
More than a half a century later, wolves began creeping back, crossing the border from Italy. In 1992, suspicions of the comeback were confirmed when a pair of wolves were spotted in the Mercantour National Park in the south-east of the country.
Wildlife officials say that around 90 percent of France's wolves are in the Alps, and that there are scatterings of others in the east and south-west of France, including the eastern Pyrenees.
In 2011, a wolf was spotted for the first time in the Vosges, in eastern France, and a year later a wolf was photographed in a cornfield in the south-western department of Gers, the westernmost point of the species' advance.
The wolf is shielded by the Bern Convention on European wildlife, and in 2007 it joined other mammals on a list of species that in France are given special protection, except in specific cases where they pose a threat.
In 2014 French authorities increased the number of wolves which can be legally killed from 24 to 36.
SEE ALSO: Wolves continue their advance on Paris