She said: “The first year we treated 80 wild animals and birds... in 2018 it was nearly 3,000. Around 85% of them are birds, and the rest are hedgehogs, rabbits, foxes, toads, badgers, moles. You name it, we treat them!”
Marie-Pierre was born in Algeria into a family which had lived there for three generations, but moved back to France to study at the Grenoble veterinary school.
She moved to the Cévennes 30 years ago.
“I wanted to support nomadic shepherds who still raised sheep in this area.
“It’s important to live in harmony with nature, rather than behave as mere consumers who are destroying it,” she said.
She founded the association Goupil Connexion 20 years ago, originally to run a club, Connaître et Protéger la Nature (CPN), but it evolved into running the Hôpital Faune Sauvage, her hospital for wild animals in Laroque, Hérault.
“People often accuse animals of making them ill. Rabies is the fault of foxes, for example. Not true. It’s the other way round. Humans are usually the cause of illness in animals.
“In my practice I treat all kinds of pet animals and the main cause of illness in them is their owners. They feed them the wrong food, or too much food, or too little. Or they don’t give them water, or they leave them alone in flats.”
This is why she sees caring for sick animals as integral to caring for the natural world and for human well-being.
“I try to educate pet owners. I educate people about the needs of their pets, as well as of wild animals, and their importance to human well-being.
“When I’m treating wild animals, I know I’m caring for the environment, and the humans within it. I started the hospital 10 years ago because I saw it was urgently needed and I thought if not me, then who? If not now, then when?
“When we treat a toad, or a mole, we put them at the heart of human life. Pollution is often cited as a leading cause of killing nature, but it’s us.
“Humans kill animals in direct ways too. Hedgehogs are burned in bonfires, they are run over. Birds are shot and electro-cuted by high-tension wires. We have to change to live alongside nature.”
Here is an entire philosophy, she said: “People have to live more simply. They need to slow down and enjoy the world around them, recycle, make and mend, take time to learn about the natural world.
“We have to stop with insecticides and all the rest. We need animal tunnels under roads, we need electricity lines buried underground.
“People kill animals, but why?
“Here at the hospital, when we operate on birds, badgers, foxes, and moles, it’s not just for the sake of treating them, it’s to protect our world. It’s all connected with how we live. Animals are ambassadors – there’s no point saving them without educating humans and saving them, too.”
The association advertises planned releases of healed wild animals and birds as a way of educating the public. Up to 100 people attend each release. Now, Ms Puech is calling for help: hands-on volunteers, stand-by “taxi” drivers for injured wild animals, and donations.
Running costs at the hospital are around €55,000 a year, including two salaries, but there is no payment for Ms Puech.
She gives her time and skills for free, as do a small army of volunteers. “But someone has to pay and a wild pigeon isn’t going to write a cheque before it flies away.
“We have lots of volunteers, but we need more. We need volunteers to come and spend a month or two months working here, and learning. We need money, too. The work we do is difficult, and sometimes sad, but it’s wonderful too.”
The group also needs people across the south of France, from the Italian to the Spanish borders, to offer to drive injured animals to one of the three centres which treat wild animals. “The sooner they receive treatment, the better their chances. The animals that survive the first hour after they arrive at the hospital have a 90% chance of recovery.”
On top of her veterinary work, Ms Puech is writing a thesis on the bugs found in the intestines of wild birds and animals.
“There are far more than previously thought. I take samples from every animal I treat and am discovering new things all the time.”
Reconnection and reconciliation are important. “Animals have lots to teach us. We live in a toxic world. But you only need a little bit of nature to make people happy.
“People are trying different things, they are looking for answers. People need to be
liberated as well as animals.”
The association’s website (goupilconnexion.org) has first aid instructions (in French) for people who have found an injured wild animal, as well as emergency contact numbers and a link to donate via Paypal.