The forest fires which began in Gironde on July 12 have destroyed around 21,000 hectares of land but have also killed, injured and displaced thousands of wild and domestic animals.
“I don’t think we will ever be able to estimate a death toll, but it is huge,” Olivier Le Gall of the Ligue de protection des oiseaux told France 3.
“The fires are not bringing us many animals because unfortunately the majority die at the scene,” he said.
More than 1,000 animals were evacuated from a zoo near La Teste-de-Buch, where one of the fires began.
This “extremely complicated” operation led to the death of 14 animals, including parrots, primates, an otter and a penguin, which succumbed to the “heat” and “stress” of the situation.
Outside the zoo, creatures such as squirrels, rabbits, deer and birds have also fallen victim to the flames. Around 10 such animals have been rescued by the Association pour la protection des animaux d’Audenge (LPO Aquitaine) so far.
“These animals have not been burnt: rather, they are coming in with breathing difficulties” linked to the smoke that they have inhaled,” LPO Aquitaine’s Victoria Buffet told BFMTV.
They are “very young and come from the worst affected communes. They quickly became disoriented, dehydrated and weak. We give them oxygen, but unfortunately that does not always work…Some do not survive.
“Many [animals], like rabbits and squirrels, have been able to get away, because they run fast and are capable of smelling the smoke before it arrives.
“But younger animals, like those still in the nest, and reptiles and hedgehogs as well, were doomed.”
LPO Aquitaine expects more animals to arrive in the centre now that the fires are under control.
The fires represent “a real disaster for the forest environment [and its] biodiversity,” Bruno Lafon, the mayor of Biganos – one of the communes affected by the fires – said.
A deer washed up on a beach
Last week, a photograph of a dead deer was taken on a beach in Biscarrosse – to the south of the La Teste-de-Buch blaze – by local resident Sébastien Dupuy.
Since then, the image has become a symbol of the impact of the fires on Gironde’s fauna and flora.
“It had been a week since we had heard birdsong,” Mr Dupuy told BFMTV. “It was only a week later that they were beginning to return to the coast.”
A mission to save Gironde’s pets
Vet and volunteer firefighter Marine Ollivier spent last week visiting the homes of people evacuated from the flames, searching for their pets.
She walked around communes including Cazauc, Cabanac and Landiras, trying to see to as many animals as possible.
“People were giving me their keys so that I could go and feed their pets. I was on a deadline; I had to go very fast,” she told BFMTV.
“When I arrived, the animals of people who had been evacuated had been shut inside their homes for more than three days, sometimes more,” she added.
“The animals were extremely hungry and thirsty; I hardly had time to put the food down when they launched themselves at the bowl.
“Animals had gone out into the streets, cats were attacking chickens. It was quite sad, because you could see that some had been there for a week, especially in Cazaux.
“I was snowed under [with animals needing food]; I even carried on working at night and still I didn’t have the time to get round everyone. I had to visit 400 animals in 48 hours.
“As a vet, I am used to being confronted with animal distress, but it still affected me to see the state that they were in. They were all coming to see me, even the wandering cats; I had the feeling that they were disoriented.”
Some pets were brought to the veterinary centre with injuries linked to the fires, and some were found dead.
Ms Ollivier also saw many wild animals that were clearly “disoriented” by the smoke and fire.
“Some were going in the wrong direction: I saw lost rabbits going into the flames. Unfortunately I couldn’t do much.”
Animal rescue organisations ready for new arrivals
Several local animal protection associations have taken to social media to inform the public about where they can take injured animals.
The LPO has also published a document with advice for those who find animals in distress.
#IncendiesGironde : que faire si vous avez trouvé un animal sauvage nécessitant une prise en charge et comment aider notre centre de soins @LPOAk situé à proximité #laTestedeBuch #feuxdeforet https://t.co/CknGSaoc53— LPO France (@LPOFrance) July 19, 2022
Incendies Gironde - Urgences animaux 33— DelaVega Pépita (@DelavegaPepita) July 18, 2022
The LPO has recommended that people put out bowls of water for any passing animals which may need it. However, these should not be placed too close to a road and should not be deep enough that an animal could fall in and drown.
It is also not advisable to give animals food, as it could be bad for them.
The LPO’s rescue centres in Audenge, Alca Torda and Mont de Marsan in Landes and Tonneins in Lot-et-Garonne are equipped to care for animals harmed by the fires.
If you find an animal which needs treatment, you can call the Audenge centre on 06 28 01 39 48, and Landes centre on 06 82 20 00 10 and the Lot-et-Garonne centre on 06 18 53 72 55.
The Audenge centre has a box where animals can be left at night, when there are no staff on site.
You should not keep any wild animals you find at home as this would constitute a breach of the Code de l’environnement.