Literary places– the Chabriéres wolf sanctuary and Gerrald Durrell’s “A Zoo in My Luggage”

Large area in the central part of Chabriéres  a few miles from the town of Gueret is secured as a wolf sanctuary. A large park is set with fences and path to keep wolves safe from observers. Among the woods, hills and stones 23 gray wolves and smaller packs of other variety (white, black and ice white wolf) roam around.

The Monts de Gueret animal park and
Wooden bench-sculpture by Creusoi de Bétete (left), white arctic wolf (top center) , gray wolves (bottom center), book cover for Gerald Durrell “A zoo in my luggage” by Penguin books published 1995 (first published in1960).

When you first walk through the entrance building into a wooden fortification you a noise greeted you is made by a domestic addition to the park. Notable part of the central greenery is taken up by a coops with a most astonishing selection of chicken in various colors and shapes. In addition to the chicken and a main attraction, the wolves, local wildlife like badgers, boars and antelopes are positioned close to a visitor walking trails.  

Wolf sanctuary April 2018
On a spring stroll through The Monts de Gueret animal park. In search of a gray wolf.

I grew up with Gerrald Durrell books, following his chaotic-funny adventures on a Corfu island as a bedtime story from “My family and other animals”. Always asking for “just one more chapter”. When I learned to read, I rapidly went through any of his books I could get my hands on, including “A zoo in my luggage”. A story about the first trip where Durrell gathered animals to start his own zoo that became a seed for the Jersey zoo and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

In my experience an ideas acquired early in life, stick the strongest. In Durrell’s vision, the zoos should be a safe haven and a breeding colonies for endangered species instead of Victorian horror houses full of tortured animals. 

His well presented argument about supporting keeping and breeding animals in captivity (as opposed to “let them live in nature where they were intended”) were  backed up by a research and experience as well as communicated through his brilliant, witty and captivating story telling.  To these days I follow his guidelines when considering any place keeping animals in captivity. Do animals look well taken care of, with appropriate living quarters (for species requirements, not to human sense of aesthetics)? Do they have companionship, food and possibility to entertain them self. Can they withdraw out of sight  when they wish privacy? Does the zoo have a scientific aims, collaborations and conservation programs? Do they try to educate rather than cash in on a sensation?

Monts de Guéret animal park seems to aim in the right direction, though of course it’s not possible to answer all these questions with a casual visit. Wolves live in semi-captivity where they roam around two forested enclosures in a combined area of 11,000 m2. Their condition and health can be observed during the feeding times. There are information boards to educate visitors, museum and an option for a guided night walks to hear the wolf’s song. 

Wolves on the village green
Half an hour before the meal time, pack has gathered to a field near the park center.

Other animal exhibits gave me a pause however, it feels harsh for chickens and antelopes to be kept so close to their natural enemy.  Though wolves seem to spend most of the days away from the central area and none seemed to spend time in an immediate proximity  of a deer fence to drool.

The 4-5 meter fences  used to enclose the wolves (probably equally to defend them from humans as well) illustrate the naivety of thinking that a picket fences around our house keep our pet husky or a German Shepard in home. Though your pug might have a bit of a difficulty with it. 

All in all, the visit to a Monstsde Guéret animal park was a wonderful opportunity to observe a wolf pack in the part of France where excess hunting and destruction of a gray wolves natural habitats had dangerously diminished the number of gray wolves.  

Pro-tip – since the park is large it takes either a bit of luck or a little planing to see (or notice) the full pack. Surest way to avoid disappointment is to time you visit right before and during the feeding time at 4 pm.   

Wolves know their meal time and we had a chance to observe a pack of twelve  wolves for a half an hour on the “village green” under the viewpoint at the center. While it was obvious that wolves were aware of humans looking and photographing, they mostly ignore us. We had a full half an hour to observe how twelve wolves go about their own business of play-fighting, sitting in majestic poses or sniffing about like an oversize dogs.

Photo gallery of The Wolves of Gueret.

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