Marmots - France’s answer to the American groundhog - are coming back out after a winter hibernating.
The mountain-dwelling, ‘ground squirrels’ - called marmottes in French - are most active during the summer, after spending the cold months underground.
In the French Alps, some of the first of the season were spotted in Eygliers, Hautes-Alpes.
The brown animals tend to whistle to mimic (and ward off) their biggest predator, the eagle. They have short bodies and legs, and long claws and incisor teeth. This helps them to process vegetation, as they are herbivores (plant eaters).
“The ones we can see who have come out, seem to be in good condition,” said Annette Lebreton, secretary for marmot protection association l’Asso pour la Protection, l’Etude et la Valorisation des Marmottes, to BMFTV.
“They don’t seem to have suffered much over the winter - which wasn’t particularly nice, there was quite a lot of cold - but they don’t seem to be suffering from any illnesses. We’re going to count them next Saturday, to see if they have all survived the winter or not.”
Take a ‘marmot walk’
Eygliers has a ‘marmot walk’, with a path that takes hikers through the animals’ area. However, Ms Lebreton warned that walkers should stick to the path and not approach the marmots themselves.
She said: “We have to understand that they have their territory, and it really is theirs, and where they store their food too, so we must not walk up to them or sneak up behind them. That causes them stress.”
Hikers are also reminded not to approach them or feed them, and to keep dogs on a lead.
As well as in the Alps and Pyrenees (where European Alpine marmots live), other types of marmots are also generally found in parts of Asia, Russia, Siberia, the US, Canada, and the Himalayas.
‘Au revoir’ les marmottes
Marmots are also well-known and loved in France for their appearance in a series of short TV ‘spots’ on France 3.
The mini-films, which appeared during advert breaks between 2015 and 2021, showed digitally-created marmots (by the Dream On studios in Paris) taking part in sports and other activities.
They also parodied famous films - including Steven Spielberg’s ET and James Cameron’s Titanic -, danced and played music.
The cute and funny films quickly became a major hit. So much so that when they ended after more than five years on screen, the company created a ‘goodbye’ (au revoir) clip that affectionately parodied the style of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who filmed a similar video when he left office in May 1981.