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Photo by Gaetano Pimazzoni

One of the puppies of the Eastern Lessinia herd photographed in October. - (C) Alberto Saddi

Abstract: For the purpose of reading this article it must be specified that this monitoring activity is based on the interpretation of the data collected in the investigation of a certainly complex species, for this reason it is necessary to read this article as a story of what we have learned and deduced during this research. 'last year, in the spirit that has always distinguished our association, that of communicating as much as possible the return of the predator, his life, the events, the passions and the problems that this controversial animal has brought back to the Italian mountains.

Starting from the end of 2014, some subjects, later merged into the association I am not afraid of the wolf, began to investigate the presence of the wolf in Lessinia, the vast plateau that extends from the province of Vicenza to that of Trento, with a large part included within the province of Verona.
Thanks to a tireless passion and constant commitment, over the years these volunteers have collected a lot of information, gaining an in-depth knowledge of the territory and the wolves that frequent it, continuing this investigation activity in 2021, as already done in 2020. (here the deepening).

The territory of Lessinia represents an example, not only as the first area of ​​the Alpine north-east to experience the natural return of the wolf, which took place in 2012, but above all because it is a place where the conflict with livestock activities is very marked and where the acceptance of the wolf is commonly very low.
Furthermore, this territory, with the due differences, represents a mirror of the acceptance condition of the wolf and the consequent problems common to many territories of the Alps, where the impact of the predator on livestock activities is very important.

Slavc & Giulietta: the Lessinia pack

This famous nucleus, which we have often told you about, was born from the 2012 meeting between the male wolf of Slovenian origin called Slavc and from the she-wolf, presumably coming from the west, renamed Juliet.
It reproduced for the first time in 2013, settling in a large part of the plateau, in an area estimated to be around 250km². (Cit. Life-Slowolf - Lessinia Regional Natural Park)
This nucleus of wolves is really important, as, through its reproductions it has contributed in a decisive way to the natural repopulation of the Eastern Alps through the dispersion of its own offspring (cit. Marucco et al. Technical report, LIFE 12 NAT / IT / 00080 WOLFALPS project).
From what we have been able to observe, since its foundation the alpha male and female have remained forever Slavc & Juliet, both particularly recognizable to an expert eye, specimens whose age it is now estimated to be over 12 years old.
During the 2021 Slavc and Juliet completed their ninth documented reproduction.

The five 2021 puppies of Slavc & Giulietta accompanied by an adult, move just before sunset.

by Alberto Saddi

At the beginning of the summer the female she-wolf Juliet, recognizable by the monitoring team for some morphological characteristics, was observed on several occasions with the characteristic signs of lactating breasts, unequivocal confirmation of the presence in the den of the puppies and of the lactation activity. of the new born.
During the month of August 2021 we were able to observe on several occasions at least 5 new born of herd of Lessinia, which add up to the minimum number of 6 adult animals found during the month of August 2021.
At the end of the summer, from what we have been able to observe directly, the herd of Slavc & Juliet it was therefore composed in total of 11 specimens, 6 adult wolves and 5 cubs, even if, from the observations carried out in November and December of 2021 it is conceivable that not all cubs survived during the first months of life.

Starting from the first reproduction, which took place in 2013, until 2021, it is estimated that the she-wolf Juliet gave birth in total to at least 42 cubs in 9 years, a data of considerable scientific importance.

The male wolf Slavc photographed during a rare direct encounter shows the characteristic signs of advanced age, estimated at over 11 years - (C) Matteo Guardini

Branco della Lessinia Orientale - Photo by Gaetano Pimazzoni

Three puppies of the Eastern Lessinia Pack chase an adult of the pack waiting for food - (C) Gaetano Pimazzoni

Fada & Vajo: the pack of Eastern Lessinia

Starting from winter 2018/2019 we were able to observe, as already reported in our report (E. Ferraro, F. Romito, Distribution of the wolf in the Eastern Alps and Prealps - December 2019) the constant presence of a pair of wolves, a male and a female, permanently present in the Eastern Lessinia area.
During the summer of 2020 we were thus able to ascertain the first reproduction of this new nucleus, evaluated in at least 6 puppies.
The two dominant specimens have been renamed Fairy e Vajo.
Also during 2021 the herd of Eastern Lessinia it reproduced itself, giving rise to the second known reproduction.
During the late spring of 2021 a direct encounter (photo below) shows the dominant female Fada with evident breasts, an unequivocal sign of the birth and the consequent lactation of the puppies.
The estimated delivery date refers to the first half of May.

Photo by Gaetano Pimazzoni

“Fada” the dominant female of the nucleus of Eastern Lessinia photographed on June 10th with evident signs of lactation. - (C) Francesco Romito

Subsequently, starting from the end of July we were able to observe, always at a safe distance and with suitable optical instruments, the life of the rendezvous, the area where the wolves rest and guard the puppies, and, in several sightings, count the number of new born.
Il herd of Eastern Lessinia, in August 2021 it was therefore composed in total of at least 13 wolves, of which at least 8 puppies and 5 adult wolves.

Further direct sightings carried out during the end of 2021 suggest that the puppies born in the Eastern Lessinia herd could be 9 in total, thus bringing to 14 the number of animals present at the end of autumn, just before the traditional period of dispersion that will bring the herd to reduce in number.

Five 2021 puppies of the Eastern Lessinia pack play at the first light of an autumn dawn.

by Francesco Romito

On the origin of these two wolves who gave birth to the herd of Eastern Lessinia we have made many hypotheses and some collected elements suggest that the female may be a daughter of Slavc & Juliet born in 2017 and having reached sexual maturity in 2020, the year of the first reproduction.
The origin of the male specimen, recognizable by the slightly darker coat, is unknown to us and for both only the genetic analyzes carried out within the institutional projects in progress will be able to give certain answers.

Both in 2020 and in 2021 we were able to document that the Eastern Lessinia herd used the rendezvous areas historically used in past years by the Slavc and Juliet herd (Lessinia herd) for the custody and growth of its offspring.

From our observations it is assumed that the eastern herd currently frequent an area that has historically been considered within thehome-range di Slavc & Giulietta, wolves that since the first months of 2020 have apparently stopped frequenting it, placing themselves in a possible smaller range than in the past, located mainly in the central-western area of ​​Lessinia.
However, the territory offers a great abundance of wild and seasonally even domestic prey, sufficient to support both nuclei currently present. (cit. Fr Selva - Food ecology of the wolf in Lessinia)

Three young specimens rest waiting for the first light of the sun, November 2021. - (C) Luca Signorini

Branco del Carega

For several years the territory of Lessinia has certainly been affected by the presence of at least one other family nucleus, the one called Branco del Carega, which seems to frequent the Veneto area in a marginal way, remaining outside the plateau and certainly affecting the Giazza area and the margins of the Ronchi Valley.
Through the activity carried out by our volunteers it is impossible to have certainty about what the area frequented by this nucleus actually is, and in this regard only careful genetic analysis and / or the use of radio-collars in institutional projects could solve the many doubts. on the effective range of this herd.
As we have learned from the monitoring activity carried out by the institutions and by volunteers external to our association, even during 2021 it reproduced giving birth to at least 8 puppies that are added to at least 5 adult wolves., for a total of 13 animals.

Other wolves present

Within the limits of the observations made by our volunteers and from the intense exchange of information with other actors in the area interested in the presence of the wolf, it is presumable that within the area between the Adige Valley and the Carega Massif they can certainly move other wolves, stable or dispersed, as it is desirable, from what has been observed in similar contexts in relation to the biology of the species, the formation in the short term of new packs that occupy adjacent areas or even part of the territory.

Some observations made suggest that, in the north-western area of ​​the Lessinia Plateau, between the Veneto and the Province of Trento, there is certainly a new couple or possible nucleus, even if, from the known data, it has not been found no reproduction.

Wolves found lifeless

As regards the wolves found dead, both in the Veneto area and in the Province of Trento during 2021 there are numerous specimens found lifeless, mainly due to impact with vehicles: it is plausible, even if there are no genetic evidences made public, that some of these specimens may come from the Lessinia herds.
We will publish further details as soon as they are disclosed by the relevant authorities.

A wolf approaches grazing cattle in the early hours of the day - (C) Alberto Saddi

The impact of the wolf on livestock activities

The presence of the wolf in Lessinia significantly affects the animals traditionally brought to pasture in this area during the summer.
In particular, since their arrival, wolves have soon learned to prey above all young cattle, easy prey and available in abundance throughout the territory concerned, especially in the period that extends from June to October.
During 2021, in the area of Lessinia Veneta a total of 108 predatory events occurred, in which 213 farmed animals lost their lives (107 cattle, 8 donkeys, 9 alpacas / llamas, 89 sheep and goats) while in the Lessinia Trentina 21 cattle lost their lives (source: Lessinia Regional Natural Park with data provided by the Forestry and Fauna Service of the Autonomous Province of Trento).

The strong social and media impact of these predatory events profoundly affects the acceptance of the presence of the wolf, generating friction and tension on a regional and national scale.
Often, in the media there was talk of a risk induced towards the loss of biodiversity due to the presence of the wolf; in particular, according to some, the presence of the wolf in the Alpine territories would discourage the activity of mountain pastures, thus leading to the closure of farms that would stop grazing their animals for fear of the predator.
Furthermore, this loss would end up modifying the landscape, favoring the disappearance of pasture in favor of forest advancement, in a slow process that would take several tens of years.
We have therefore tried to investigate these aspects by analyzing the data of the National Database on the presence of grazing animals, both in Lessinia Veronese and Trentino from 2008 and up to 2020.
The data refer to all the codes of the Veneti malga but we keep in mind that some huts do not have a code and therefore it is not possible to have data relating to the alpine heads.
Trentino in turn does not use a specific codification for mountain huts like Veneto and therefore it is not possible to extract the codes of all the mountain huts.
We also keep in mind that one thing is the animals uploaded to the database and another the heads actually uploaded to the malga: it is possible that these data are underestimated as the number of animals brought to the mountain pastures could be greater.
They should be considered as partial data, but they are also useful to get an idea.

If we analyze the data relating to the animals brought to the pastures in Lessinia Veronese and Trentino, based on the only data available that we were able to find, it is clear that the numbers of animals brought to pasture are substantially stable from 2010 onwards, with a decrease of about 1000 units in 2017, and again rising from 2018.
In 2019 and 2020 the number of animals in the mountain pastures is similar to the data recorded in 2010 and 2011, a period in which the wolf was not yet present in Lessinia.

On the other hand, analyzing the predatory impact of the wolf on grazing animals, it is clear that it is important compared to the animals brought to the mountain pastures, affecting, in the worst case, up to 3% of grazing animals: in 2020, for example, for every 100 animals. grazing, nearly 3 animals were preyed upon by the wolf.
However, it is necessary to underline some aspects: the first is that surely the underestimation in the data available on the animals actually present in the pastures would lead to lowering these percentages, but it is also true that sometimes some predations are not reported, thus rebalancing the estimate in favor of the data. obtained.

The second, on the other hand, even more important, is that even a minimal loss represents damage to the farmer under many aspects, causing him even indirect damage (ex. reduction in milk production) which should not be underestimated and which can hardly be repaid.

In 2021, both in Veneto and in the Province of Trento, all predated animals, whether they are attributed to wolves and / or canids, are financially compensated, through reimbursements given to the breeder who suffered the loss.
Contrary to what happens in various Italian regions, in the Alpine areas concerned, wild predations are compensated economically by the institutions even where no prevention method is implemented.
In the near future it is conceivable that this type of approach will be abandoned, compensating only the damage suffered where damage prevention tools have been put in place, considering that the same institutions, through specific tenders, offer companies concrete economic help to obtain of the necessary prevention tools.

In our research we were unable to find data on deaths from other causes during the mountain pasture period, (ex. lightning strikes, illnesses, injuries) but it is important to underline that they occur during the mountain pasture season.
Analyzing the data on predations, it is clear that cattle are the most affected species, both because they are present in the majority in the territory, and because of the type of grazing practiced that distributes them over large areas.
Sheep-goats such as sheep and goats, despite a reduced presence on the territory and a decidedly lower number of individual predatory events against themselves, still represent a hard hit category as often, during a single attack on a flock, many can die. animals.
In conclusion, excluding the singular cases of predation on other domestic species such as wandering dogs or alpacas, donkeys represent the third most predated species by the wolf.

The remains of a bovine - (C) Francesco Romito

Methods of prevention: not enough has been done yet.

In 2022, wolves have been present in Lessinia for 10 years and, despite a general mistrust, there are cases of breeders both in Veneto and in the Province of Trento who have successfully applied, at their own expense or through institutional support, prevention methods.
For some years we have been lucky enough to closely follow the company's work Those of the Baito that in Lessinia Veneta raises over 120, including goats and sheep, producing a high quality cheese and using guardian dogs as the main means of prevention together with night shelter in a fixed enclosure.
During these years a good relationship of trust and mutual exchange has been created, both to make us better understand what are the problems of breeding in Lessinia, and on our part to advise the company on how to best cope with the presence of the wolf. on the territory.

On November 21, 2021, the mountain pasture season ended and the company left Malga Derocchetto where the animals had been present since May: in almost six months no predation against this reality was recorded in the malga, even if the wolf is massively present in the area and 2021 is to date the worst ever as regards predation in Lessinia.

During the month of September it was also possible to observe live the work of the LGDs during the removal of at least two adult wolves in the early hours of the morning, further confirming the validity of the working dogs.
Furthermore, during the six months spent in the malga no particular problems were recorded with the 6 guard dogs present in the malga to the detriment of people or domestic dogs, in an area where tourism is very present.
Only 3 animals: a ram, a lamb and a goat have disappeared for reasons not directly attributable to the wolf but for other reasons, including the death of the ram due to natural causes.
To date, however, not enough has yet been done to encourage coexistence with the wolf: on the one hand breeders who, without making too much noise, apply means of prevention, on the other hand a general refusal of many others in applying prevention methods, waiting for a solution to arrive from above that eliminates the presence of the wolf from the territory.
This "eradication" is an inapplicable solution for many reasons, natural, practical and legislative, and in our opinion it represents a red herring that continues to deceive those who refuse a priori to apply means of prevention.
Furthermore, it should be specified that the levy on the species does not significantly reduce predation on domestic animals, as shown by the experience of some European countries that have been practicing it for many years.
Even a single predatory event can represent an important damage for a company, just as a single wolf can cause, under certain conditions, a profound damage to livestock activities.
To date, according to our point of view, the only viable way to make wolf and animal husbandry coexist on the territory is that of using the means of prevention of damage.

Old and new generations of LGDs in Malga Derocchetto (C) Francesco Romito

Conclusions: what future for the wolf in this area?

In light of the very high number of predations in 2021 against farmed animals, the future of the wolf in Lessinia appears complex: on the one hand it clashes with widespread rejection due to the territory's vocation for livestock activities and great dissent caused by predation on farmed animals, on the other hand a deep-rooted and stable presence is confirmed that will persist over time and with which in one way or another it will have to live together.
For this reason it should be mainly the institutions to act more decisively, in order to favor the coexistence between wolf and human activities.
As an association we firmly believe that in order to guarantee both a future it is necessary to find and apply solutions that aim to reduce the impact on households as much as possible and compensate for any losses adequately and quickly, as well as favoring correct information on an issue that is often exploited. .
Coexistence is a necessary path and prevention is a compromise to follow it safely: perhaps it will not completely eliminate predations, it will not be easy, but in our opinion we all have a duty to do everything possible to follow it.
Whether you like it or not Slavc, Juliet and all the wolves born from the meeting of this couple, colonizing the Eastern Alps, represent something important for the species and for the man who lives with it, so in the future it will be increasingly necessary to create information, culture and initiatives dedicated to the coexistence of men and wolves.

Thanks

Special thanks for the work done go to Command of the Forestry Carabinieri of Bosco Chiesanuova, Park warden of the Lessinia Regional Natural Park and Ala station of the Trentino Forestry Corps. Furthermore, a warm thanks goes to the volunteers of our association involved in the monitoring on the territory and to all those who have sent reports to our association.

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