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The spontaneous return of a large predator

The wolf in the Maritime Alps

Wolf - Photo C.Joulot

The wolf (Canis lupus italicus), one of the largest European predators, had disappeared from the Alps at the beginning of the last century.
Around the end of the 1980s, a few animals from the Abbruzzi Apennines started to move north from central Italy, they were helped by the abundance and variety of prey available and by the increase in woodland. So in December 1992, 70 years exactly from their disappearance, the first two wolves were officially sighted in the French Maritime Alps.

From that moment the species began to repopulate the valleys of the South West Alps. This was not a reintroduction, as in the case of ibex, but a spontaneous recolonization due to the fact that the environmental conditions had again become more suited to this large predator. Thanks to careful monitoring, we now know that 20-25 wolves, divided in small packs, live permanently in the French-Italian Maritime Alps area.

Wolves are particularly elusive, they can sense people's presence at a great distance, they move mostly at night and can cover tens of kilometres per night. So it is almost impossible for a hiker to see them, it is easier to see their tracks however, particularly in winter on the snow: the prints are very similar to those of a large dog and their scats are full of hair and pieces of bone.
They are social animals living in small family packs with a marked hierarchy. They hunt as a group with complex but very efficient strategies.

Despite the efforts and legal protection wolves don't have an easy time: often because of fears which are irrational but difficult to overcome and sometimes for very real economic interest, these animals find themselves on a collision course with humans, in particular with shepherds, breeders and hunters, who see them as rivals. All this despite the fact that in-depth studies have shown that wolves' prey of choice are large, wild herbivores, such as chamois, roe deer, deer and mouflon, whilst domestic livestock never makes up more than 15% of their diet.

If you want to find out more about this predator's lifestyle, and to explore the different meanings attributed to wolves by different peoples through history, you can visit the two visitor centres of the **"Uomini e Lupi - Men and Wolves" wildlife enclosure, where you may also see the wolves that live in the eight hectare enclosure.


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