Impossible mission? Photographer Raphaël Helle, a connoisseur of Franche-Comté, and I have agreed to track the lynx. A kind of big wild cat, the “Early Lynx” had been eliminated by man in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1971, Swiss conservationists reintroduced it on the grounds that its presence regulates the balance between herbivores and flora. From Switzerland, he has since crossed the border on his own and returned to France. Not easy to spot: nocturnal hunter renowned for its speed, 70 km/h, its ability to leap on its prey, it is also adept at disappearing behind rocks, blending in among the shrubs of the wild forests that constitute its natural habitat …
Our journey begins in Lons-le-Saunier, capital of the Jura, department where lives the largest population of lynx in France: between 100 and 150 individuals, according to the counts. Here was born Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), author of La marseillaise, whose birthplace you can visit. In the blink of an eye, in front of the music conservatory, a treble clef and a few notes of our national anthem traced on the ground act as a level crossing. But lynx, no trace yet.
Information taken, a resident suggests we go for a walk to the general council. In the hall, we are recycled and life-size: a deer, a leatherback turtle, a polar bear and… a lynx! Produced, like all the others, by the Jura artist Pascal Bejeannin (read below), this lynx is the latest addition to his arc to be welded. Before presenting it to the departmental hotel, the visual artist exhibited it in the forest of Bois-d’Amont, not far from the Swiss border: “I create all these animals with the aim of putting them back in their natural environment. ” We take him at his word and ask him if he can lend us his lynx for some pictures in the surrounding woods. To our surprise, he accepts. It is therefore with a metal lynx weighing more than 50 kg in the trunk of our car that we set off, 40 km away, towards the town of Crozets and the green valleys of the Haut-Jura regional natural park.
Mathilde Poncet, who has promised to sell us “the skin of the lynx”, welcomes us. It is not about the epidermis of the feline, but about his last work: Mathilde illustrates children’s books. The skin of the lynx is a beautiful fable in which various animals and a seamstress combine to thwart the sordid plans of a hunter who wanted to slay a lynx… “This animal, she tells us, poses no threat to the man. On the contrary, he mainly consumes sick animals. My drawings aim to raise awareness of the role of the lynx in cleaning up forests.”
An endangered species
However, in the department, he sometimes displeases part of the public, especially breeders who fear for their sheep and hunters who see him as a competitor for game. And although it is on the list of protected species at European level, the lynx remains threatened, Mathilde is alarmed. Poaching out of ignorance or revenge, but also and above all highway and rail collisions represent the strongest cause of death for this animal in the Jura, but also in the Doubs and nearby Haute-Savoie where a few dozen individuals have been killed. landmarks. With a steel lynx and a second on paper in our purse, we continue our search for the spotted felid through the mountain trails. Our steps lead us to La Chaux-du-Dombief, at the foot of Saut Girard, one of the seven waterfalls of the Hérisson river. On a promontory, a lynx cut into the granite looks down on us. Alas, still no living specimen! Here and there, hikers testify to having seen his shadow… Even the illustrator Mathilde and the sculptor Pascal admit that they have never crossed paths with him. Other Jurassians certify… to have met someone who would have seen him in the flesh, in claws and in bone. “To establish that it is indeed a lynx, specifies a water and forest agent, it should be noted that it has clear eyes and a short tail.”
Finally, we go up a serious track. Direction: Baume-les-Messieurs, one of the most beautiful villages in France, where stands out a magnificent abbey complex erected from the 9th century. In a house of the Romanesque abbey, a large poster, stamped with a beautiful lynx which plunges its brilliant eyes into ours, welcomes us. Exhibited here are photos by Guillaume François, animal photographer and videographer, and watercolors by Amélie Sabanovic. These two young artists from Lédon praise the totem animal of their region. “As a strict carnivore, it contributes to the balance of ecosystems by feeding on chamois and roe deer which represent 90% of its diet, young deer or wild boar, very rarely goats but not sheep at all” , reassures Guillaume, 30 years old. He now devotes his life to photographing this animal to better contribute to its protection, and has accumulated an almost academic knowledge, since his first face-to-face with the mysterious feline when he was 7 years old, close to his house, in the Ledonian hinterland.
Between dog and wolf
“The suitable territory for an adult male is vast: he needs between 300 and 450 km. Urbanization and communication routes force him to venture every night into areas frequented by men, when he is looking for his pittance or go to meet congeners”, continues Guillaume. Fortunately, in the town of L’Étoile there is the Center Athénas, a veterinary clinic which, since 1987, has treated wild animals. But this sanctuary remains closed to the public to prevent the fauna from becoming familiar with humans, and refuses journalists… Raphaël, the photographer, consoles me: “I visited it last year and I couldn’t see the lynx than through a surveillance camera!”
Sensing our interest, Guillaume and Amélie offer to accompany them to one of their meeting places with lynx, as they had done with the astronaut Thomas Pesquet a few months ago. We find ourselves the same evening, between dog and wolf, on an isolated parking lot at the edge of a “recree”, one of these valleys in cul-de-sac with steep walls, typical of the region. The duo takes us after a twenty-minute walk in the middle of a spruce forest, on a secret site. At the foot of a carefully selected tree, a stone’s throw from a path where they have identified characteristic traces of the animal, they wear khaki-colored clothing and a net concealing their camera equipment. Hands behind their ears, they listen to the first rustles of this world waking up at nightfall.
It was there that on February 27, at 5:05 p.m., a young male lynx came to meet them and machine-gunned them for a long time with his clear, piercing white gaze. Time to let yourself be photographed and sketched. Then he melted back into the thicket without showing the slightest sign of aggression… “It’s the lynx who decides to show himself. He first makes sure that we have passed the patience competition. Me, I see him on average once a year”, whispers Guillaume.
Tonight, the feline will not do us this honor. But we imagine that, lurking somewhere in the shadows, he is watching and sniffing us. We wanted to see the lynx, but no doubt it was he who followed us with his gaze until we left his forest to return to the complicated world of men.
Jura Tourisme Departmental Tourism Committee, in Lons-le-Saunier.
- Jura Vine and Wine Museum. Reconstructed vines and showcases allow you to discover the work of the Jura winegrower of yesterday and today, over the seasons, as well as the grape varieties of the Jura vineyard.
- House of the Laughing Cow. It is built on the site where the adventure began in 1921. Its visitors will be impressed by the history of the cheese brand, accessible in many regions of the world, considered one of the jewels of French industrial success.
- House of Louis Pasteur The scholar, born in Dole, owned this house in Arbois, now listed as a historic monument. This resort where Pasteur spent his summers and worked has been preserved “as is”. A short distance away is the scientist’s vineyard, towards Besançon.