All of the creatures most commonly associated with the Alps are well represented in the Vanoise National Park – chamois, marmots, ibex (also known as bouquetin) and eagles can all be seen if you are lucky (and quiet!) enough. Other animals to keep an eye out for include alpine hare, snow voles, pine martens, alpine newts, grass snakes, frogs, natter jacks, squirrels and foxes. Of the feathered variety you may see golden eagles, bearded vultures, eagle owls, ptarmigans, black grouse, rock thrush and many other rare species. The three-toed woodpecker has only ever been seen in Savoie and Haute-Savoie, so is definitely one for the keen twitcher’s checklist! The park’s wildlife stats are impressive to say the least:
- 2000 ibex; the largest population in France making up a third of the total national population
- 5500 chamois
- 120 different species of breeding birds
- 20 pairs of resident golden eagles
- the park’s insects represent over 80% of the insects to be found in the whole of France
One of the highlights for many visitors is spotting a chamois or a marmot – the two most symbolic animals of the Alps. Since the creation of the park as a protected the area the chamois population has rocketed from 3000 to 12 000! This does not guarantee a sighting by any means though, as the chamois is a shy creature and likes to keep a wary eye out for danger. They are most likely to be spotted early in the morning and at dusk, as this is when they tend to graze for food. They live high up and are good rock hoppers; so if you look to the crags above you, you might see a hairy little face gazing back down!
Marmots are funny creatures that amble around between 1000 and 3000 metres. They look a little like oversized guinea pigs and live in underground burrows called ‘galleries’. They live in large family groups, so if you spot one the chances are there are more of them milling about somewhere nearby. They make a peculiar high pitched whistling noise and like to sunbathe!
Species rehabilitation is one of the aims of the park and it is a haven for rare and protected creatures. Ibex numbers have increased literally tenfold, from 200 to 2000 since the creation of the park. The black grouse is another species that the park is trying hard to preserve as it is in real danger of extinction; the rangers monitor habitats and record numbers and are keen to inform and educate visitors to the park about their work. Their research into the wildlife of the park regularly leads to the discovery of new species, and provides a valuable service to the preservation of alpine fauna.
The isolated summits provide a perfect habitat for golden eagles and the extremely rare bearded vulture is a regular visitor; the park rangers are hopeful that a breeding pair may make the park their home before too long. In fact, if you are a dedicated birdwatcher, a keen conservationist or just someone who likes to spot a bit of wildlife when they are rambling along the Vanoise National Park is definitely a good place to start.