(Photo: Rama/ Wikimedia Commons)
In the mountains of southeast France, retired surgeon Francis Roucher spent many a day hunting chamois – an animal that’s a cross between a goat and an antelope. But a close encounter with a young chamois led Roucher to re-think his actions. As Ari Daniel Shapiro reports, Roucher now spends his time safeguarding the health of the local chamois population. (Photo: Rama/ Wikimedia Commons)
GELLERMAN: On a trip to southeast France, reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro met an elderly couple. They welcomed Ari into their home, where he enjoyed a meal and spent the night. The next day, the old man told Ari about an experience that had forever changed his life. Now, Ari Daniel Shapiro shares it with us.
SHAPIRO: Here’s a story about one sort of relationship that a person can have with an animal, and how that relationship can change. First, the person…
ROUCHE: My name is Francis Roucher. I’m living at the foot of the Alps.
SHAPIRO: Those are the Alps in the southeast of France. And it’s those mountains that you see from Roucher’s front lawn, soaring above a legion of rolling hills and shorter peaks. They form a smaller mountain range called Chartreuse, and it’s breathtaking.
Francis Roucher is 79, and a retired surgeon. I talked to him because of his hobby. Which brings us to the animal in this story. Something called a chamois. Scientific name: Rupicapra rupicapra.
ROUCHER: It’s between a goat and an antelope.
SHAPIRO: Chamois live – and I should say that the plural of chamois is also chamois – chamois live amidst the mountains. They can have brownish-golden fur, a light face with a dark stripe running from each eye to their nose, and two short, curved horns.
The first time Roucher saw a chamois, he was 16. Just Roucher, the chamois…and a rifle. Roucher’s hobby: hunting. For fun, and for meat. He learned the most humane way to hunt was to aim for the chamois’ heart.
ROUCHER: Immediately, no blood comes to the heart, and no blood to the brain. He has no pain. It taught me to shoot very, very accurately.
SHAPIRO: For Roucher, there was something exact about the hunt. And something electric. For years, he hunted the chamois close to his home in Chartreuse, where – as it turned out – the herd was in decline. Still, Roucher hunted them regularly, until one day…
ROUCHER: The last chamois I shot – a chamois got out of the trees so I shot it but not very, very well. So the poor chamois – he was 3 or 4 years old – went down, you know, trying to be on his feet and could not. And fall down just near to me.
But his head high and looking at me: “What have you done, sir? I was just so happy in my meadow.” You see these big eyes, like black eyes, like antelope: they are very soft, you know. And they look at you. Il ne peut pas penser… They couldn’t think people are dishonest.
SHAPIRO: He quickly brought the animal’s suffering to an end by firing off a second shot. But that was it for Roucher.
ROUCHER: I stopped hunting. I was fed up with hunting.
SHAPIRO: Once Roucher quit his hobby, he had time to think about the dwindling numbers of chamois in Chartreuse. And he got concerned they were being over hunted.
ROUCHER: I switched to game management, which is much more interesting than shooting. So, the shooters were my instrument of work.
SHAPIRO: Through game management, Roucher had to balance two things. On the one hand, he wanted to maintain a healthy population of chamois. And on the other hand, he had to satisfy the hunters who didn’t want to be told they couldn’t hunt. So he came up with a compromise.
A controlled hunt where only a limited number of animals of a certain age and sex could be killed each year. It was unusual for a layperson to even try to establish such a protocol, and it took him a while to convince the hunters, but he earned their trust, and eventually they came round. These days, the numbers of chamois are back up, and the hunters still get to hunt.
[SOUNDS OF FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOREST]
SHAPIRO: The day after I visited Roucher, I went to Chartreuse to find some chamois. There was a damp mist that was swirling along the ridges, as it fell onto the grass, trees, and rocks where I was walking. My guide was Philippe Boquerat, a local forest ranger with a sun-leathered face and a shock of light hair. He agrees that there are more chamois today than before, and at least some of that increase is due to Roucher.
[WALKING AND FOREST SOUNDS]
SHAPIRO: After an hour of walking, Boquerat and I spotted a couple of adult chamois. And we crouched down.
BOUQUERAT: When we are entering in our space, we can disturb them by our noise and our smell… To see chamois is seeing a part of the wildness.
SHAPIRO: I was gazing at two chamois in the distance, but there was one I missed seeing altogether. Boquerat leaned in and started whispering.
BOUQUERAT: You have a female, yeah, and on the left of the female, you have a small one, a baby.
BOUQUERAT: On the left.
SHAPIRO: Tiny, tiny. A little baby chamois. All told, we saw about 25 chamois that day, gliding up and down the slopes. And because there are more chamois now than before, both wildlife watchers and hunters can appreciate them, each in their own way. For Living on Earth, I’m Ari Daniel Shapiro.
GELLERMAN: Ari’s story comes to us from the series One Species at a Time. It’s produced by Atlantic Public Media with support from the Encyclopedia of Life. You can learn more at our website: L–O–E dot org. Or tweet us - on twitter - at livingonearth - that’s one word.
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