Over at Gramat, a rather grey town on the causse of the same name, there is a ‘parc animalier’. I am not a lover of zoos or captive animals but after visiting with my youngest nephew when he was only two I became a fan. The animals are predominately European and have large enclosures. There are lots of trees and places to picnic and a safe space for toddlers to run about. Later our first grandson visited at nine months old and squealed excitedly at the wildfowl and the otter who shows off in his glass fronted tank. There have been subsequent visits when he has delighted in being able to run at will or gently stroke baby goats.
I was upset by the bear pit the first time I visited but a few years ago the Parc spent several months creating a big new enclosure with a building from which you can view the bears at eye level and feed them pellets dropped down a tube. So the Parc has become a feature of family visits and we were all excited to discover bear cubs were expected last January. Three were born and the public, via Facebook, were able to vote for their favourite names (Mishka, Noisette and Cassy). The Parc management posted video clips of the cubs with their mother, Groseille, safely cocooned away from prying eyes. A promise was made that they would be out for the public to coo over at Easter.
Well, we all know what had happened by Easter 2020. We had been in confinement since the middle of march and all visitor attractions were closed for the foreseeable future. The Parc continued to keep us informed of the cubs progress along with other births amongst the animal family groups. But it was by the bear cubs that I was besotted.
So, having waited all summer, ignoring the opening of the Parc in June as probably akin to opening the floodgates, and then July and August when the tourists were thronging into the department, I was desperate to see the rapidly growing cubs. We wouldn’t bother with a picnic as it is only a half-hour drive away and the day was forecast to be hot so coming home to a cool house would be inviting after our walk. The programme suggests two to three hours to ‘do’ the whole Parc.
I bought the tickets online as the website suggested was better in these covid conscious times and got a small discount. We arrived half an hour after opening time and found a few cars in the car park. Masks weren’t required outside but we kept them handy just in case. The girl on the desk told us to take a short cut to see the bears first as they liked a nap around midday. She sold us some pellets to feed them with and any other animal that was permitted. Some of them are pretty practised at begging as soon as you show an interest!
Down to the bear enclosure we went, checking our cameras were primed and charged….but no bears. Not a single one. We scanned the far corners but not a shape or shadow to be seen. I rattled some pellets down the feeding tube, hoping it would stir someone, anyone, to amble over. But no.
Disappointed and slightly disbelieving, we trudged back to the start by the wolf pack and admired the new litter of pups. Then we walked around the park in the increasing heat. It had been about 25° when we left home but was forecast to reach 30+. Most animals were dozing the morning away or hiding under faraway trees. The various goats and sheep were most pleased to see us….or the pellets we carried.
As the ‘sense de visite’ took us back to the bears we began to quicken our pace. Surely they would be out by now?
No. We walked up and down, inside and out, but nothing. This was so sad. During our Sunday facetime call with the family we had talked about this visit. Promised to take videos of the bears. Recalled happy and silly events ‘do you remember when the pelicans tried to eat daddy?’ etc
One thing I did discover in the bear viewing building was the grotto. I had thought it was hyperbole in the brochure but there really is a grotto within the building, stalactites and all! I have always been so focussed on the bears I had never ventured into that space before.
So something to take away from the day. But no bears. I video-ed the otter. And the coypus who snuffled about, tumbling over each other in their fake stream. We bought postcards of the cubs and the girl commiserated with us and said why didn’t we stay for lunch, they may come out later? But it was really warm now and I wanted to get home and get inside into the cool so I wasn’t surprised the bears were staying put. Next time. Please.