“There are as many stories as there are animals…” The Refuge de l’Arche facing animal emergencies

At first glance, it looks like a classic zoo with its vast car park, ticket office, shop and, above all, its alleys populated by a thousand residents in enclosures. Moreover, like many zoos, it has been full of visitors since the start of the All Saints holidays. However, no, the Refuge de l’Arche, in Château-Gontier (Mayenne), is not a zoo like the others. In this animal park created in 1974, all the animals have been abandoned or withdrawn by the courts from their owners. Big cats, monkeys, antelopes, reptiles, birds… Some will stay there for a few weeks before being entrusted to a partner structure, but most will end their days there “as peacefully as possible”.

“There are as many stories here as there are animals, often complicated cases”, insists Jean-Marie Mulon, new director of the Refuge de l’Arche. In an “awareness” approach, the establishment does not hesitate to tell about these “atypical routes” to its 85,000 annual visitors. Like that of the white lion Safran, seized from a private individual near Niort, of the bear Martha, unhappy in the concrete enclosure of a zoo, of these baboons and crab-eating macaques, rescued from experimental laboratories, this molure python which has become far too large for the apartment where he lived, or these 12 buffaloes and four camels illegally detained by a cattle breeder… Latest arrivals: three white storks entrusted to the refuge following the closure of the Orangerie zoo in Strasbourg.

“There are fads”

“We recover traumatized animals, victims of mistreatment or forced to leave their environment overnight. We must therefore adapt, give them time to regain confidence, ”reports Armelle Lagarde, deputy director. “With us, if the animal wants to isolate itself out of sight, it can do so,” adds Jean-Marie Mulon. The pens and lodges are designed specifically for this. It’s frustrating for our visitors, but we explain it to them and they understand. Despite careful care, sequelae sometimes remain. “We have a bear, Bony, who arrived at our house mutilated by a bear trainer, says Eric Moeglen, cultural mediator. The other day, a group of school children approached making noise. It triggered a reaction in him. He went to hide in a corner, terrified, refusing to eat. Animals obviously have emotions, just like humans. »

Le Refuge de l'Arche animal park also collects birds, like this parrot.
Le Refuge de l’Arche animal park also collects birds, like this parrot. – L. Hobe /Refuge de l’Arche

Today “almost complete” on its 23 hectares, the Refuge de l’Arche, which also has a rescue center for local wildlife, in which animals found injured in the wild are cared for, has been filled to the rhythm of a consumer society that is not always concerned with animal welfare. “There are fashion phenomena, such as illegal imports of magot monkeys, or that of new pets (NAC)”, observes Jean-Marie Mulon. “They are bought in pet stores or on the Internet, continues Armelle Lagarde. The owners do not realize the responsibilities that this can incur or, after a while, can no longer take care of it. Parrots can live up to 80 years, for example. “Last July, two impressive royal pythons were found in a Mayenne forest, “probably released by an overwhelmed owner”.

The reception of circus animals, the next challenge

“We don’t have the space or the specific facilities to meet all the needs. This is also why there is no reproduction on the site [les arrivants sont systématiquement stérilisés]. But we are still looking for a solution. We work with all the associations,” says Jean-Marie Mulon. The director worries about the consequences of inflation. “If people no longer have enough to feed their animals, there is a risk of a peak in abandonment,” he fears. It also anticipates the ban on keeping wild animals in circuses by 2028. “More than 500 animals are concerned, mainly big cats. It will be necessary to find them reception capacities throughout France. We are already preparing for it. »

Feeding a marmoset at Le Refuge de l'Arche animal park in Mayenne.
Feeding a marmoset at Le Refuge de l’Arche animal park in Mayenne. – L. Hobe

In this context, the Refuge de l’Arche, which employs 32 people, is constantly seeking to develop its resources. Its revenue comes mainly from admission tickets (48%) and public subsidies (26%). “We have developed a catering offer for the public, we have derivative products, the entrance fee will also soon drop from 12 to 13 euros. But we don’t want to go much further in commercial development, it’s not our DNA,” confides Jean-Marie Mulon. He does not hesitate, then, to communicate on the importance of donations. A new campaign will be launched in the coming days.

“Donations are one of the levers to enable us to strengthen our actions,” insists the director. This refuge is a wonderful adventure. It was launched nearly fifty years ago, at a time when there was no talk of the environment or animal welfare in the media. It absolutely must continue. »

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