To see the rut or not to see the rut: Zatisthequestion!
A recent television program devoted to the Champagne-Ardennes presented viewing the rut as a modern adventure close by us. So, think about it, you could find this great thrill a stone’s throw from Troyes, in the magnificent Orient Forest, which surrounds the lake of the same name. No need to take the plane, carbon balance guaranteed. A few years ago, a friend suggested this adventure to me and I agreed. The rutting spots in Orient Forest and elsewhere are well-known. We left our car beside the departmental road, and walked for almost an hour at the close of this autumn day. Apparently, we were not the only ones. When the animals came out of the forest, the 4×4s arrived … no comment.
In fact, what is the rut?
Between 15 September and 15 October, deer enter their breeding period (average dates, these animals don’t keep a diary), the hinds only being fertile at this time of the year.
In the afternoon and evening, the stags begin to bellow, a raucous noise that can be heard from kilometres away. The aim is to gather the hinds in an open space where they are waiting. A group of hinds is formed, but the stags also turn up. Only one has the right to do his duty: the dominant male, the one that has successfully repelled all the others in short but sometimes violent combat, antler against antler, often doing damage. During this period, the stags do not feed.
Why such excitement, one could say voyeurism, for the rut? You can see the same behaviour in birds and other mammals (roe deer, rabbits, hares). A single scientific justification: it means that foresters can easily assess the forest’s population.
Orient Forest Regional Natural Park fauna space
What’s the connection with the rut? I arrived. In 1970, after the lake was filled with water and the park was created, a game viewing area was set up on the Luxembourg Piney peninsula. A viewing area also means enclosures to retain the animals. After 30 years of service, the equipment hadn’t aged well and no longer lent itself to a modern and educational presentation of animals. Between 2008-2010, work led to the creation of the Orient Forest fauna space, a 50 ha enclosed space designed for the presentation of information and raising of public awareness concerning the secret life of the region’s wild fauna (herbivores). As well as animals already living in the forest (deer, roe deer, wild boar), the Park decided to present animals that lived there in former times: “Tarpan” horses, reconstituted herds of auroch*, European elk and European bison in the context of European programs for herd reconstitution.
A 3-kilometre educational circuit accessible to families and people with reduced mobility goes round the bison enclosure, runs alongside the enclosures for other animals and 3 hides can be used for discrete, hidden observation. A 10 ha enclosure accommodates a herd of stags and hinds and it’s here you can watch the rut.
*Aurochs had completely disappeared in the 12th century. Some bovine species had retained their diverse characteristics. Successive cross-breeding successfully recreated an animal identical to the extinct aurochs.
My surprises …
A hundred people had the same idea as me, some in camouflage gear. Many were toting impressive camera equipment, proof of their attraction to the appropriation of nature.
The educational circuit gives people the opportunity of discovering not just tree species (including a magnificent malus sylvestris: the crab apple) but also flowers and mushrooms, and to go bird watching alongside the national reserve.
In this place, the wire fences really bother me, giving me the impression that it’s the people who are caged and on the other side, it’s the animals that are free.
The fauna space is on the D43 between Mesnil Saint Père and the Park’s house. It’s open every day except Friday from 20 March to 30 September from 14.00 to 20.00, during the All Saints holidays every day except Friday from 14.00 to 18.00.
Deer rut, from 21 September to 04 October every day from 14.00 to 22.00; from 07 to 31 October every Sunday from 14.00 to 19.00.
Price: non-guided visit, adults 5 €. Groups of over 10 people: 4€. Children from 3 to 12 years: 3 €.
annual subscription (unlimited number of visits): adults 15 €, children from 3 to 12 years: 10 €.
guided tour on reservation: adults between 8 and 25 people: 5 €school groups, leisure centres, medical centres, specialized institutes: 3 €.
Please note that the behaviour of deer living in semi-captivity is a little different from those living in freedom, involving a shorter rutting period.
Don’t do like I did. Don’t forget your binoculars.
More information: www.pnr-foret-orient.fr