In the middle of the night of September 17th, the hikers were disturbed by noise at their camp. They woke to find their tent and part of their backpack had been violently torn apart. Panicking, they fled down into the valley.
The couple, familiar with the area, attributed the attack to a wolf in an interview on local television channel D!CI on Tuesday.
An expert assessment is now under way in conjunction with the ONCFS (Office national de la chasse et de la faune sauvage) “to collect as much detail as possible on the facts” and “to determine what may have happened”.
The hikers will officially present their version of events during the week.
“We take the subject seriously,” responded the communication department of the Écrins National Park.
But local officials have cast some doubt on the theory that a wolf was behind the attack.
“We already had a report, a few days earlier, of a fox demonstrating aggressive behaviour towards hikers in the campsite (torn tent, effects and especially stolen food),” said Écrins National Park in their statement.
In April 2016, the Hautes-Alpes prefecture issued a shoot to kill order for Filou, a fox considered potentially dangerous who used to disturb people and other animals in the Lautaret mountain pass.
This fox hypothesis is also favoured by the mayor of Freissinières, Cyrille Drujon d'Astros: “I have had no information about wolves. It seems more likely that it was foxes who came to search the tent and backpack of the hikers to find something to eat.”
— Le Parisien Infog (@LeParisienInfog) August 6, 2019
Nurturing the return of wolves in France continues to provoke debate.
Wildlife groups are delighted that they have made a comeback and the wolf population has increased this year to more than 530 animals in comparison to 430 last year.
The total number of départements where wolves have been regularly sighted is now 38 – around a third of the country.
But, alongside this, farmers have also complained about an increase in attacks on their herds and wild animals.
French breeders hold a banner reading “no to wolves” as they demonstrate with their animals in Lyon. Photo: AFP
In mid-September, the prefecture of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes raised the quota of wolves for slaughter to 100, producing outrage with a number of animal protection organisations.
In general, wolves tend to flee from humans. In France, no wolf attacks on humans have ever been reported.
Recently, in Canada, a family was attacked by a wolf in Banff National Park, but this is an extremely rare occurence. The authorities attributed this unusual behaviour to the poor condition of the wolf as it neared the end of its life.