The naturalist survey was commissioned by the Conservatory of Natural Spaces of Occitania.
More than a year ago, seven students from the Valrance Rural Family House, BTSA management and nature protection, received a mission commissioned by the Conservatory of Natural Spaces of Occitania. Mission that consisted of making an inventory of forest carnivores (foxes, badgers, marten, weasel, hill, ermine, weasel or genet). It was also a matter of highlighting the presence of the forest cat in the forests of the Lacaune and Saint-Serninois mountains.
“A vital hinge for the coming years”
“This species, a distant cousin of the domestic cat, has always been wild. students say. Indeed, if the presence of this species was seen, it could be the link that unites the populations of the far east and center of France with those present in the Pyrenees. In these times of global warming, species need to be able to adapt to disorders. To do this, populations must be able to exchange their genetic heritage. Thus, the southern sector of the Aveyron can be this ecological hinge, vital for the coming years. The aim of this naturalistic research was, therefore, to find out if the species is present and if the two strains can come into contact and reproduce with each other. “
To carry out their mission, the students used different methods. A survey was conducted among hunters and hunters in the area. “The forest cat loves deciduous and coniferous forests, explains Damien Saint-Léger, one of the students. We did some mapping and set up points to install camera traps with the permission of the owners. “
In October 2020, six traps were installed in Saint-Sernin, Pousthomy, Combret-sur-Rance, Laval-Roquecezière, Montfranc and Vianes (Tarn). “To attract these cats, we placed perforated stakes with a valerian infusion inside that mimics the smell of the female. Then we picked up the traps every month, some of which moved.”
Starting in September 2021, for the second year of research, students joined a regional program. South of the Aveyron, this action is piloted by the naturalist structure Nature en Occitanie (Néo) and by the French Bureau for Biodiversity (OFB) in Millau. Students tied oil-coated metal brushes and crushed valerian to the trees. The aim is to encourage the animals to rub their hair in order to recover their hair and have it analyzed genetically.
A plus in training
“In total, all target species were observed, says Damien Saint-Léger. We’ve recovered thousands of photos, including many branches swaying in the wind that turn on the cameras! We have several photos of the local wildlife, such as deer, wild boar, foxes and small rodents. And there are probably two photos that are similar to the morphological features of the forest cat. “ The collected hairs were delivered to the OFB for genetic analysis. The results will be known in about a year. It will be possible to know if the animal is a domestic cat, a forest cat or a hybrid and if it belongs to the population of the Far East or the Pyrenees.
“This work brings an advantage to our training course, emphasizes Fanny Taupin. It also shows that you are capable of being a professional, of working with partners and that you have the knowledge to enter the world of work ”. By Mathilde Desplat, “This allowed us to evolve as a group, with respect for everyone.”
In the end, the students “to thank all the collaborators who have been able to provide them with very useful information. Once again, through the collaboration between all the actors of nature, our territory has been able to reveal its exceptional value for species remarkable and sensitive “.