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Photo by Gaetano Pimazzoni
4 wolves from the Eastern Lessinia pack move at the first light of day. - (C) Gaetano Pimazzoni

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 interpret 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 also during 2020, the year of the pandemic. and carrying it on up to the present day.

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 is estimated to be over 10 years of life today.

The pair reproduced annually from 2013 to 2018, giving birth in total to at least 29 cubs during these six years. (cit. Lessinia Regional Natural Park)
During the 2019 Slavc & Giulietta, after a not very fruitful reproductive year (probably only 1 puppy), from what we have been able to find, they presumably spent the winter alone, without any wolves in tow.
During spring 2020 the herd of Slavc & Juliet (said Branco della Lessinia), however, was certainly made up of at least 3 animals: the two dominant individuals plus a female she-wolf, presumably adult, renamed "The she-wolf with glasses"Due to the particular design of the mantle corresponding to the face mask: the she-wolf was observed for the first time in the spring of 2020 together with Slavc & Juliet.
"The she-wolf with glasses"So it could be a daughter of the couple never observed before or a wolf from outside, associated with the dominant couple during the spring of 2020, however, only the genetics in charge of institutional projects will be able to give certain answers.

During the month of May 2020 we were able to observe Juliet in an evident state of lactation, a sign of the successful reproduction and birth of the puppies.
As a further confirmation, during the month of August, we were finally able to observe the new puppies of Slavc & Juliet born in summer 2020: 7 puppies that add up to those born after 2013, bringing the total number of puppies raised by the couple between 37 and 2013 to 2020.

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.
This pair, constantly present on the territory also during the following summer 2019, was never observed in marking / dominance attitudes until late winter 2020, a period in which it began to mark the territory repeatedly, concurrently with the estrus period of the female.
During the summer of 2020 we were thus able to ascertain the first reproduction of this new nucleus, initially evaluated in at least 5 puppies.

Photo by Gaetano Pimazzoni
3 puppies from the pack of Eastern Lessinia - (C) Gaetano Pimazzoni

A further significant direct sighting of member G. Pimazzoni on 1 November 2020 filmed a total of 8 wolves in a singular video that shows the interactions between subjects of the same pack: the two dominant ones and presumably 6 puppies of 2020, a certain fact that replaces the previous one. data observed. (following video)

On the origin of these two wolves who gave birth to the new pack 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.
For the purposes of recognizing the specimens we have given them the names of "Fairy"For the female, in honor of the" fade "mythological beings of the Lessinian fables, who living in contact with nature were considered by men to be neither good nor bad, and"Vajo”In the male, the dialect name of the characteristic valleys of Lessinia.
From our observations it is assumed that the 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.
The reasons for the change in use of home-range they could depend not only on the settlement of the new nucleus, which inevitably subtracted territory from the historical one, but also on the advanced age and the reduced number of associated individuals in 2019, precisely in the period in which the new couple settled.
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)

Movements of other wolves and dead specimens

The territory of Lessinia is partially affected by the presence of at least one other family nucleus, the one called Branco del Carega, for which reproduction was made official also in 2020. (Groff et al. Large carnivores 2020 report of the Fauna Service of the Autonomous Province of Trento ". )
Il Branco del Carega occasionally frequents the territory of Lessinia, but it is conceivable that with the formation of the new herd of Fada & Vajo it now remains on the edge, presumably occupying a vast territory extending from the Province of Vicenza to the Adige River Valley.
Due to the complex orography of the territory and its vastness, it is presumable that other wolves, stable or dispersed, can move within this area, as 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 herds that occupy adjacent areas or even part of the territory.
As regards the wolves found dead, both in the Veneto area and in the Province of Trento during 2020 and the beginning of 2021, numerous specimens were found lifeless, mainly due to impact with vehicles: it is plausible, even if there is no evidence genetics made public, that some of these specimens may come from the Lessinia herds.
Furthermore, during the month of November the remains of a 24 kg sub-adult she-wolf were found in the area of ​​Sand'Anna d'Alfaedo. (cit. Parricelli, Lonardoni - Wolf monitoring 2020 - Quaderni della Lessinia) died of unknown causes.

A dead cow in the Lessinia pastures - (C) Francesco Romito

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.
After an apparent decline in 2019, during 2020, in the Lessinia area there were a total of 95 predatory events between the Veneto Region (88) and the Autonomous Province of Trento (7), in which 173 animals lost their lives. breeding (92 cattle, 7 donkeys, 74 sheep and goats).
For 48 of these predations it was not possible to trace them with certainty to the wolf but they were generically attributed to "canid", even if it is certainly conceivable that most of them were caused by the wolf.

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 the Veronese and Trentino Lessinia areas starting from 2008, the year in which movements in the malga began to be recorded.
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 heads uploaded to the database and another the heads actually uploaded to the malga: it is desirable that these data are underestimated as the number of animals brought to the pasture 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 special 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.

A 7-wire electrified fence in Lessinia Trentina, financed with funds from the Autonomous Province of Trento - (C) Francesco Romito

Methods of prevention: not enough has been done yet.

In 2022 it will be exactly 10 years of wolf presence in Lessinia: from what we have been able to observe, despite a generic 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 support institutional, prevention methods.
A certainly particular case concerns the large 7-wire electrified fence present at Sega di Ala in Lessinia Trentina, a certainly vast and demanding solution from an economic and management point of view that not everyone can afford, but which has allowed a large group of breeders gathered not to suffer even a predation during the 2020 season: this fence was put in place again in 2021 and others appeared in neighboring areas of the Province of Trento.
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.n 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 way to make wolf and animal husbandry coexist in the area is to use damage prevention means.
In this particular context, the institutions should be more present in the field to work closely with breeders, informing them more about the adoption of the means of prevention through the knowledge of the appropriate notices, evaluating the different needs for each case, also helping them in the bureaucratic aspects and stimulating greater knowledge on the ethology of the species.
From this point of view, the Province of Trento is working carefully, thanks to the work carried out by the Provincial Forestry Corps which also takes care of assisting breeders for the request and / or installation of fences, and the numbers on predation are one of them. testimony.

One of the signs delivered by our association to the shepherds of Lessinia who use LGDs (C) Francesco Romito

Conclusions: what future for the wolf in this area?

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 the great dissent caused by predation on farmed animals, on the other hand a presence is confirmed rooted and stable 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.

I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE WOLF
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