I was lucky enough to spend a few days in the Southern France a few weeks ago. Of course, the wolves were never far behind.
Wolves were prevalent in the forested areas of Southern France (Robinson Crusoe’s companion gets eaten by one in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, 1719) until the 1900s by which time they had been essentially eradicated. Some of these early wolves gained reputations as man-eaters and huge hunts were undertaken to destroy them – as is so often the case, the wolf grew with the reputation until they were transformed into being monstrous in size and beastly in nature. One notable example of these ‘notorious’ man-eaters was the Beast of Gevaudan which terrorized the civilians of Gevaudan between 1764-1767 before it was shot dead. The animal gained a supernatural reputation one which outlived the creature itself. The myth of the Beast has been absorbed into Teen Wolf (2011- ) only, as to be expected, the wolf has become a werewolf.
Though wolves have not be re-introduced into France they have returned. Packs have moved from the Italian Alps into the French Alps in Southern France. As, may be expected, this has re-ignited ancient fears regarding the risk to domestic animals and humans. (The debates regarding the risks of wolf attacks on humans are extensive and complicated. It would appear that the rate of attacks differs from country to country. Equally, not only are some of the accounts questionable in their veracity but the motive of the attacks are not always made clear – like most creatures, humans included, wolves will kill due to hunger and when threatened. Statistics on the subject are difficult to verify and often only tell part of the story. Much like shark attacks, the fear of being attacked can overcome any rational engagement with the risks of such an attack).
Sadly on my visit, I was only able to see wild boars and deer. However, at the airport I did see an advert for the Alpha-Loup wolf sanctuary. As part of the visit, the sanctuary offers an insight into the difficulties in balancing the arguments for and against hunting wolves. I’m hoping to return in the future and visit the sanctuary so that I can consider how they frame these arguments and whether they demythologise the monstrous image of the wolf that can be seen in earlier accounts.