Gabas to Luchon on the Pyrenean Way (GR10)
Cet article est également disponible en: French
[extract from If you only walk long enough – exploring the Pyrénees]
The path twists down to the Lac d’Anglas, an extravagant, vivid blue jewel in a lurid mossy emerald setting. In the distance, I see a colony of perhaps thirty marmottes gambolling in a hollow, bounding up and down amongst the flowering rhododendrons, running away and then returning to the fray. I approach cautiously, but one of them flies away! They are not marmottes but vultures. More exactly vautours fauves, griffon vultures, and much bigger than I thought – two or more metres from wingtip to wingtip.
Looking up, I see that more are arriving, circling high above, scrutinising the scene. On the ground, one runs up the hill flapping its wings ineffectively, more to keep the other vultures at bay, than to take off. It has a lump of something red in its beak and blood splashed down its long, fine, white neck. A white and inappropriately fluffy collar protects its mottled brown plumage from the dribbles.
The others set up a kind of hoarse jabbering which becomes more intense as I approach, and then, in a dramatic whoosh, a menacing, flapping, dark shadow rises into the sky. They have left behind them a corpse. The leg bones have been stripped clean but the ribs are still splashed with drying blood. Little remains of the innards, except for a large brown, fleshy, oozing bag. The wool has been stripped back from the neck to reveal a pink and as yet undamaged throat. The head, except for the eyes, is intact. The stink keeps me from examining the carcass more closely.
Vultures are gregarious creatures. Leaving the colony at dawn, on a bad day they may travel up to 100km in search of food, spreading out over a large area but keeping visual contact with each other. Their excellent eyesight allows them to spot a dead marmotte 3km away. Once they have identified their objective, their cry and sudden descent invites the other guests and the feast can begin. In principle, vultures only eat dead animals – sheep, lambs, calves, and wildlife – although they are said to relish a warm placenta. But recently, livestock farmers have started saying that they also attack weak new-born lambs and calves, and even their mothers, exhausted by giving birth. There are only a handful of reports each year, which seems a trivial number when compared with a livestock population measured in hundreds of thousands. But the whole question has given rise to a heated debate, second only in acrimony to the debate surrounding the reintroduction of bears…
This is an extract from If You Only Walk Long Enough, available from Amazon. See details and reviews. Une édition française intitulée Les Pyrénées tout en marchant sur le GR10 est aussi disponible.