Wolf Back at the Door

Today we continue our impromptu series on “animals back in Europe that you wouldn’t expect” with an article by Helmut Luther from the German paper Die Zeit about the wolves that now roam in Italy, specifically in the northern reaches of the Apennine Mountains. Actually, Luther’s article (with the nearly-incomprehensible title “In a song with Isegrim” – it seems Isegrim/Isegrin is the name of a wolf-character out of German medieval fables) is located within Die Zeit’s Travel section, as it is oriented towards potential tourists interested in heading down to Northern Italy to try out the very limited wolf-searching commercial tours on offer there, and includes at its end practical information about the tours themselves, how to get there, and available hotel accommodation in the area.

But yes, wolves are back in Northern Italy, after all but completely dying out decades ago. They were officially made a protected species under Italian law back in the 1970s, but Luther writes that a more-helpful development was the economic development since then that prompted country-dwellers in that part of Italy to head away to the city for more lucrative jobs, and so opened the way for wild boars and deer – the wolves’ favorite snacks! – to spread and multiply, with the canines at the top of the local food-chain soon following.

Now Luther writes how there are an estimated 800 at large throughout the Apennines, where despite their legal protection they are still poisoned, shot, or trapped by the sheep-raisers in that area who tired of constantly losing elements of their flocks to them. But the article mostly zeroes-in on the 250 square-kilometer Frignano Nature Park located on the border between the regions of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, for that’s where interested tourists can go along on wolf-hunting excursions, in groups of six maximum – “hunting” here in the sense of tracking them down to see them, not to actually do them any harm. These are two-day expeditions into that protected wilderness area, led by actual wolf studies academics whose expertise extends to “wolf howling” – yes, howling at various intervals at night to see if they can attract a reply from any of the wolves that might happen to be in the local area. (This is only worth doing at night, and indeed excursion-participants must be ready to invert their normal biorhythms and make night the period in which they go for hours in search of their quarry, as wolves tend to lie low during the day.)

Still, there’s never any guarantee that any given group will actually succeed in finding a wolf; again, the protected area in question constitutes a full 250 square kilometers, and as far as the guides can tell there are only two packs active in that area, plus a number of “lone wolf” individuals. For what it’s worth, if running across the real four-legged thing tends to be a hit-or-miss proposition, participants can at least expect to encounter tell-tale wolf-meal leftovers – e.g. the discarded bones, hair-tufts, etc. that mark the remains of wolves’ prey. Disgusting – or just a normal element of the struggle for life in nature? In any event, I think it’s clear that the return of the wolf here, even in a country of such long-standing civilization as Italy, is another welcome sign of modern man’s willingness to make at least some small concessions to Nature.

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