Since the early 1990s, the return of wolves in France has caused passionate controversies opposing the militant nature protectors and the mountain sheep farmers. To understand these debates, it is necessary to go beyond the taken-for-granted and the slogans and to pay attention to the generally despised social discourse of rumours. This paper first describes how the situation has evolved since Spring 1993, first announcement of the "official" return of wolves in France till Spring 2000, when an official Wolf Plan, planning to regulate the species according to the geographical areas where it appears, is adopted. The opposing parties are then described: sheep-farmers and political representatives from the mountain areas, associations of ecologists and of friends of the wolves, the administrations which remained passive for long. Each group asserts to be the closest to nature, a blanket term that covers very different realities. Third, the generally ignored existence of uncontrolled wolf-rearing in France, leading to releases (voluntary or accidental), is discussed. This fact is linked to the evolution of the wolf's image, described in the fourth part: from the most rejected to the emblem of wild reconstructed nature, the wolf remains an "animal of the utmost", polarizing passions. The rumours about release of wild animals (that exist all over the world, one of their main expressions being the asserted ubiquity of Mystery Cats (also called Alien Big Cats) and the truth they express are analysed in the fifth part. Reflections on the future of the wild wolf in France are presented to conclude.
Rumours, social conflicts, wildlife, ecology.