“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 ample parking, ticket office, store and, above all, its alleys populated by a thousand residents in enclosures. Also, like many zoos, it has been full of visitors since the start of the All Saints holiday. 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 animals were abandoned or removed by their owner’s courts. 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, the new director of the Refuge de l’Arche. In an “awareness-raising” approach, the establishment does not hesitate to make these “atypical routes” known to its 85,000 annual visitors. Like the white lion Safran, seized from a private estate near Niort, Martha the bear, hapless in the concrete enclosure of a zoo, these baboons and crab monkeys rescued from experimental laboratories, this molure python that has become too big for the apartment where he lived, or these 12 buffaloes and four camels illegally kept by a livestock farmer… Latest arrivals: three white storks entrusted to the refuge after the closure of the Orangerie zoo in Strasbourg.

“There are fads”

“We recover traumatized animals, victims of abuse or forced to leave their environment at night. We must therefore adapt, give them time to regain confidence”, reports Armelle Lagarde, deputy director. “With us, if the animal wants to isolate itself, it can do so”, adds Jean-Marie Mulon. The pens and housings are specifically designed for this. It’s frustrating for our visitors, but we explain it to them and they understand. Despite careful care, sometimes sequelae remain. “We have a bear, Bony, who came to our house mutilated by a bear trainer,” says Eric Moeglen, cultural mediator. The other day, a group of school children approached, making noise. This 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, such as this parrot.
Le Refuge de l’Arche animal park also collects birds, such as this parrot. – L. Hobe / Refuge de l’Arche

Today “almost complete” on its 23 hectares, the Refuge de l’Arche, which also has a local wildlife rescue center, where animals found injured in the wild are cared for, was filled to the rhythm of a consumer society that does not always care about animal welfare. “There are fashion phenomena, such as the illegal importation of magot monkeys, or new pets (NAC)”, observes Jean-Marie Mulon. “They are bought in pet stores or on the Internet,” continues Armelle Lagarde. Owners don’t realize the responsibilities this can entail or, after a while, they can’t take care of it anymore. Parrots can live up to 80 years, for example. “Last July, two impressive royal pythons were found in a Mayenne forest, “likely released by an overworked owner”.

Welcoming circus animals, the next challenge

“We don’t have the space or specific facilities to meet all 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 spike in abandonment,” he fears. It also provides for a ban on keeping wild animals in circuses until 2028. “More than 500 animals are concerned, mostly big cats. It will be necessary to find reception capacities throughout France. We are already preparing for this. »

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 tickets (48%) and public subsidies (26%). “We have developed a catering offer for the public, we have derivative products, the entrance fee will also drop soon from 12 to 13 euros. But we don’t want to go too far in commercial development, it’s not our DNA”, confides Jean-Marie Mulon. He does not hesitate, then, to communicate the importance of donations. A new campaign will be launched in the coming days.

“Donations are one of the levers to strengthen our actions”, insists the director. This hideaway is a wonderful adventure. It was released almost fifty years ago, at a time when there was no talk of the environment or animal welfare in the media. He absolutely must go on. »

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