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In 2018, we released un report on the presence of wolves in Val Taro in the province of Parma, relating to the years 2016 and 2017. Subsequently we continued to tell only a few individual stories of the groups followed, which you can find in our section. With this article we try to take stock of the situation on what we have continued to observe from 2018 to March 2022, always in the same area, characterized by high forest cover and low anthropogenic presence.

For the purpose of reading we specify that the monitoring activity is based on the interpretation of the data collected through the acquisition of videos from photo-video traps, direct observations and detection of signs of presence, for this it is necessary to read this text as a story of what we have learned and deduced during the aforementioned period, with limited means and without the aid of other sampling methods attributable to the solidity of a scientific research project.

 

We observe two areas that are not adjacent to each other: the main one has an extension of about 100 km2 and the secondary of about 16 Km2.

Since 2018 we have been collecting data using from 20 to 30 photo-video traps that we place mainly on recurring marking sites, near rendezvous areas and in case of finding predations. We leave the photo-video devices positioned as long as possible in the same sites to cover the two areas investigated in a continuous and homogeneous way. 

In case of reports (predations, sightings of puppies) we place the photo-video systems in an opportunistic way even outside the two areas investigated.

This method allows us to acquire many videos, during which the wolves stand in front of the photo-video traps, allowing us to identify phenotypic characteristics that favor the recognition of the dominant individuals of the different nuclei and / or associated wolves when we are able to identify characteristics (signs) details.

Shooting the same couple in the same places for a long time generally allows us to recognize the wolves with good certainty and to notice any substitutions or to notice if the observed site is visited by other couples or individuals.

In reality, this method presents some difficulties, the main one, unfortunately, is represented by theft and / or tampering of the equipment which, in addition to economic and data loss, influences the choices of the most suitable positioning, because wolves tend to move. on roads, dirt roads and carriageways just like people.

Another difficulty encountered concerns recognition in some cases: unless wolves have obvious particular characteristics (short tail, folded ears, scars, anomalies or other marked phenotypic characteristics, blindness), wolf individuals are generally similar to each other and in some cases, when videos of a couple are captured in different locations, it may not be immediate to understand who the specimens in question actually are.

 

Branco del Torletto

This pack, which we have followed since 2015 and which we have often spoken to you about, lived there during 2021 substitution of the dominant male.

During the month of March 2021 we therefore stopped filming "Codino", the old dominant male in favor of "Pino", a new male who joined the female "Sottiletta" in leading the pack..

"Pino" is recognizable by a limp in the left front.

The last time we filmed the couple with the puppies was 2016, for all the following years, despite having had images showing us the female "Sottiletta" in the months of May and June with the characteristic signs of lactation, testimony of the breastfeeding of new born, we have never been able to identify the puppies and since the beginning of 2019 the couple has not been taken again associated with other individuals.

This led us to hypothesize that the couple reproduced but for reasons unknown to us the puppies did not survive.

In 2021, compared to what we have verified through the numerous shootings, we have never seen any signs of pregnancy or signs of lactation and throughout the course of the year we have not taken other individuals associated with the couple. Unlike in previous years, there was apparently no pregnancy. We hypothesize that the couple in 2021 did not reproduce as the replacement of the dominant male coincided with the reproductive period and the female could have been temporarily without a partner at the moment of estrus.

Pino and Sottiletta - Video Daniele Ecotti

A consideration that we feel we can make on this nucleus concerns the use and extent of the territory, which since 2019 has significantly decreased in favor of three other herds (Mirtillo, Banditi and Cavalieri).

We hypothesize that one of the causes of the reduction in the size of the territory may be related to the fact that the reproductions of the couple have apparently always failed and that the two wolves have remained without associated individuals during the last 3 years, probably reducing the ability to garrison and defend. a wider territory.

In the 2016-2017 report indicated as N1

Herd of Blueberry

In the autumn of 2018 we filmed for the first time a couple in an attitude of territorial marking on a recurring site used since 2016 exclusively by the Torletto pack.

During 2019 the new couple continued to frequent the area in attitudes of territorial dominance with more and more frequency to the detriment of the Torletto pack, which from the summer of the same year definitively stopped frequenting it.

From what we have observed, we believe we have witnessed the formation of a couple who managed to settle permanently in an already occupied territory.

We called the two wolves Chiara and Lo Scuro, both with particular phenotypic characteristics: the female has a rather light colored coat while the male has a dark color and an extended and marked facial mask.

During 2019, we have not collected any clues to hypothesize reproduction.

Chiara and Lo Scuro filmed in 2019 - Video Daniele Ecotti

In 2020 the couple continues to frequent the area regularly and the frequent passages allow us to observe the signs of lactation in the female but unfortunately we are unable to identify the puppies.

Chiara with signs of lactation - Video Daniele Ecotti

During 2021, through a greater effort and the increase of the equipment used in the field, we take back a young male associated with the couple, which we hypothesize to be one of the puppies born in 2020 and we are able to ascertain the presence of at least 4 puppies, thus estimating the consistency of the herd in 7 individuals.

The puppies of the Blueberry herd - Video Daniele Ecotti

Pack of The Bandits

In 2019 in another area of ​​the observed range, until then exclusively frequented by the Torletto herd, we begin to register the presence of a couple with a dominant and territorial attitude. Both the male, called "Ombra" and the female, called "Scheggia", have little extended facial masks but have no other particular characteristic elements to make them easily identifiable, at least until the summer of 2021, we find the presence of a swelling, presumably a lipoma, on the left front paw of the male, which from that moment will make it easier to recognize.

From the images acquired between November 2019 and February 2020 we assume that the couple has already reproduced in the past, having taken it on several occasions with at least one associated individual.

In autumn 2020 we ascertain the reproduction and record the presence of 6 puppies by estimating the consistency of the reproductive nucleus in 9 individuals.

Ombra and Scheggia together with the puppies - Video Daniele Ecotti

During the spring and summer of 2021 we continue to resume the couple associated with two other individuals who, by size and build, we assume to be the puppies born the year before.

Ombra e Scheggia with two associated individuals - Video Daniele Ecotti

The pair also reproduced during 2021 both for the presence of signs of lactation of the dominant female observed in September and for the presence, recorded in January 2022, of a recognizable puppy of markedly reduced size associated with Ombra and Scheggia.

The reproductive nucleus with associated puppy - Video Daniele Ecotti

The minimum confirmed size of the nucleus for 2021 is 5 individuals.

The Torletto pack continued to frequent this portion of territory with territorial marking attitudes.

Herd of The Knights

We identified this nucleus in 2018 by recording some territorial overlaps with the Torletto herd in an area on the border of the study area and presumably also the Torletto herd area, which since 2019 stops frequenting the area.

We have given the names of Wind and Storm to the members of this couple. The two wolves do not have such marked characteristics as to make them easily identifiable outside the recurring sites where we film them.

In 2019 we ascertain the reproduction through different images of the female showing the signs of lactation.

Signs of lactation - Video Daniele Ecotti

In January 2020, from the various videos acquired, we estimate the minimum size of the nucleus in 4 individuals, of which 2 we assume to be the puppies born in 2019.

The pack of the Knights in January 2020 - Video Daniele Ecotti

Starting from summer 2020 we started to record several "forays" in other areas of the range frequented exclusively by the Torletto herd and during the winter 2020/21 we filmed Vento and Storm, associated with different individuals, on several occasions, recording in at the same time the presence of 8 other wolves associated with the dominant couple.

With respect to what has been observed, we hypothesize that during 2020 there was reproduction and we ascertain the minimum consistency of the herd in 10 individuals.

Consistency of I Cavalieri at the beginning of 2021 - Video Daniele Ecotti

In July 2021 we identified a rendezvous area in which we recorded the presence of at least 5 puppies. In this restricted area we have not obtained sufficiently exhaustive images of the adults so, given the strong dynamism observed in the territory, we do not exclude the possibility that it may be a different reproductive nucleus.

The puppies filmed in 2021 - Video Simone Giosso

Throughout the winter period we regularly resume the nucleus and in December 2021 we observe the simultaneous presence of 9 individuals associated with Wind and Storm, so we estimate the minimum size of the herd at 11 individuals.

The Knights in December 2021 - Video Daniele Ecotti

The Torletto pack, despite the numerical inferiority, continued to frequent the same sites in a prevalent way compared to the pack of I Cavalieri. On several occasions we have recorded, very close in time, the passages of the two nuclei in the same sites, where in particular the Knights seem to try to intercept Pino and Sottiletta, who from their point of view consider intruders in what they consider to have become the their territory. From the dynamics observed, we believe it is possible that the disappearance of Codino from the Torletto pack, which took place in March 2021, may have been caused by a clash between the two packs.

Passages a few hours away between Il branco del Torletto and I Cavalieri - Video Daniele Ecotti

The pack of the Nail

Let's assume that this pair, which we renamed Nikka and Yawn, was formed in 2016 when we started filming it on the same marking sites frequented by the Ljubljana pack. Nikka has a rather small size, which makes her recognizable, and I yawn an extended and marked face mask.

Due to the numerous thefts perpetrated in the area it was very difficult to obtain information on this nucleus.

During 2018 and 2019 we did not obtain any other data except those that confirm the presence of the couple and the repeated territorial overlaps on recurring marking sites with the Ljubljana herd.

During 2020 in the summer period we take back the female in a lactating state and the nucleus is composed of at least 4 individuals.

Nikka and Yawn associated with two other individuals - Video Daniela Ferrari

Since the summer of 2020 the dominant male, Yawn, has likely suffered an injury to his left eye, which has led to blindness.

Yawn in 2020, notice the "off" eye compared to the video trap illuminator - Video Daniela Ferrari

We hypothesize that the reproduction was successful since in autumn we recorded the presence of 4 other individuals associated with Nikka and Yawn.

The estimated core size for 2020 is 6 individuals.

The pack of the Nail in October 2020 - Video Daniele Ecotti

During the course of 2021 we regularly film the couple and between May and July we record several videos of the lactating female and we ascertain that Nikka and Yawn are associated with two other individuals, probably two puppies born the previous year.

The pack of the Chiodo in September 2021 - Video Daniela Ferrari

Reproduction is confirmed also for this year for the various recorded videos of the lactating female and for the presence of a puppy, recognizable by the size, taken in February 2022 associated with the family unit.

Yawn, dominant male with associated puppy - Video Daniela Ferrari

The estimated core size for 2021 is 5 individuals.

In the 2016-2017 report indicated as N4

Herd of Ljubljana

The pack has been followed since 2016 and consisted of "Lubiana", a dominant female and recognizable by the GPS collar, and the male "Giovanni". Found Thu the story until 2018.

Giovanni has a powerful build, dark bands on the neck, a very dark tail and a rather extended face mask while Selva has an extended face mask and considerable size, appearing as big as Giovanni.

In 2018 and 2019 we did not acquire sufficient data other than to confirm the presence of the couple, but we assume that in 2019 there was reproduction because in the winter of 2020 we recorded the couple associated with an individual. We continue to record territorial overlaps with the Chiodo pack.

During the summer of 2020 we record the female with signs of lactation, but we do not detect other individuals associated with the couple in order to hypothesize reproductive success: in all the recordings made, in fact, the couple is always alone, so we ascertain the minimum consistency of the herd in 2 individuals.

In June 2021 we resume the couple and in the female the signs of lactation are visible.

Branco del Ljubljana in June 2021 - Video Daniela Ferrari

Through some videos recorded in February 2022 we have filmed the herd made up of at least 5 individuals, therefore we assume that the puppies born in 2021 were at least 3.

Ljubljana pack consisting of at least 5 individuals - Video by Daniela Ferrari

The minimum size of the herd ascertained for 2021 is 5 individuals

In the 2016-2017 report indicated as N2

Herd of the Reserve

We have also often spoken of this reproductive nucleus. As for 2019, we refer you to what already published in our dedicated section.

Since the replacement of the dominant male in 2019, there have been no other changes in the couple, which is always made up of Punto and La Pina.

Punto is a wolf with a very reddish color and has two white dots on the cheeks above the face mask while La Pina has a more creamy gray color and a fairly extensive face mask with a comma indentation.

During 2020, the reproductive nucleus is made up of at least 6 individuals. They did not record any video showing signs of lactation and we did not identify any puppies.

The consistency of the reproductive nucleus throughout the course of 2020 is 6 individuals.

The pack of the Reserve in 2020 in the video 5 of the 6 estimated individuals - Video Daniele Ecotti

From the first months of 2021, the estimated number is reduced to 4 individuals.

During the summer of 2021 from shots of the dominant female, in which signs of lactation were still visible, we hypothesize that there was reproduction, which we can ascertain through some shots from which we estimate the presence of at least 2 puppies.

One of the two puppies born in 2021 - Video Daniele Ecotti

The reproductive nucleus at the end of 2021 composed of 6 individuals - Video Daniele Ecotti

In March 2020 we photographed two individuals who, due to their phenotypic characteristics (very light legs and very extensive and marked facial mask), we believe are not associated with the family unit of the Reserve.

Two individuals "unrelated" to the pack of the Reserve - Video Daniele Ecotti

In April 2021 we had a single shot of a melanistic individual in the territory of the Branco della Riserva, probably an individual in the dispersal phase.

Melanistic wolf - Video Daniele Ecotti

In the 2016-2017 report indicated as N5

Conclusions

The last few years have been characterized by a strong dynamism, with changes in some dominant wolves and the appearance of pairs and new packs in territories occupied by other known nuclei, which have changed the dynamics and the use of the monitored area, making it further complicated to follow. and interpret what has been observed. In 2017 and 2018 we identified the presence of two other reproductive nuclei adjacent to the observed ranges. For the following years we have not investigated the sites and therefore we do not know if the nuclei are still present.
What appears most significant, in light of the data collected and the observations carried out, is the growth in the number of nuclei present within the main survey area, extending for about 100 square km, which we have detected since 2018.

The nuclei identified from 2016 to 2018 inside and outside the investigated areas

  The nuclei identified from 2019 to 2021

Number of nuclei and minimum total number of individuals detected from 2016 to 2021 in the areas investigated

 

In the survey areas and in the adjacent areas we have a low presence of farmed animals, mostly represented by cattle and horses grazing in the wild or semi-wild during the summer months. The predations on domestic, from the news in our possession represent sporadic episodes.

We believe it is conceivable that the estimated numbers of nuclei and wolves are correlated to a high presence of wild prey able to satisfy food needs.

In the two areas and in the adjacent areas, according to the news in our possession, from 2016 to today, no carcasses of wolves that have died of natural causes have been found and 3 individuals have been found dead from anthropogenic causes: one due to impact with a vehicle (2016 ), one found in a snare (2018) and one dead for reasons still under investigation in 2022.

We hypothesize that this data, considering the time span and the density of wolves estimated in the pre and post reproductive period, represents an important underestimation of the effective mortality.

With the exception of the Torletto herd which, from what has been interpreted, is not reproductive since 2017, whose home-range is entirely and abundantly included in the main observed range, we believe it is more than plausible that most of the nuclei, while regularly frequenting the area investigated , has the respective home-range that extends beyond it as well. However, it should be borne in mind that in the main observed area at least 3 rendezvous areas are used by three different nuclei.

In two recent publications the average size of the home-ranges in the central Apennine area was found to be extended from 80 to 130 Km2 (on average 104 Km2), and between 50 and 150 Km2 from satellite telemetry data and indicate how generally the rendezvous areas are central to the territory occupied by the reproductive nucleus.

Compared to what has been observed in recent years, we have the feeling that the number of nuclei and rendezvous areas detected may indicate a general decrease in the size of the home-ranges.

This feeling, inevitably, pushes us to ask ourselves many questions about what could be the causes: perhaps the saturation of most of the territories in our country determines attempts to settle in areas already occupied, for which individuals in dispersion, when they associate and become territorial inevitably try to steal territory from other herds or perhaps it is the young who try to be independent within the territory of the herd of origin and, if they meet a mate, try to become territorial, probably favored by tolerance between individuals with family ties. Our feeling is that the success of the formation of new pairs in already occupied territories can be favored when the herds are few in number and we imagine they have greater difficulties in defending their territory and perhaps even little convenience in doing so. We also hypothesize that the anthropogenic pressure, even if not quantifiable, affects the changes we have witnessed.

What remains certain is how these animals are fascinating and how they always manage to amaze us, leaving us with so many questions that are basically among the reasons why we will do everything possible to continue to follow them and collect data, which we remember, continue to be disposition of institutions and researchers.

Finally, a big thank you goes to our volunteers, who with great commitment and passion contributed to the management of the photo-video traps and data collection.

References:

Determinants of home range size and space use patterns in a protected wolf (Canis lupus) population in the central Apennines, Italy - S Mancinelli, L Boitani, P Ciucci - Canadian Journal of Zoology, 2018

Life13 project Nat / It / 000728 Life Mirco-Lupo ACTION D2

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