The Italian Wolf: Unique Subspecies in the world

The Rare Canis lupus italicus

By Brunella Pernigotti

The population of the Italian wolf is a unique subspecies in the world: it’s Canis lupus italicus, as the great Italian naturalist Altobello had already proposed in 1921. As proof of this, in the study published in 2017 a team of researchers from nine European countries studied, starting from the origins, the uniqueness of the Italian wolf, discovering that it stands out from all the others in Europe and in the world, both at the level of autosomal chromosomes, that is, most of the DNA of an individual, and at the mitochondrial level, that is DNA inherited through the mother. Romolo Caniglia, geneticist and coordinator of the study, explains:

“Using methods that allow us to date up to when the separation of the Italian wolf from other European populations took place, it surprised us to discover that this uniqueness does not go back to past centuries, when the wolf was exterminated by men from all Central Europe; the results indicate instead that Canis lupus italicus started to distinguish itself already from the end of the last glaciation age, when the wolf populations then existing in Europe had been pushed south by the ice, while new wolves from Asia were beginning to arrive from the east “. A subspecies whose diversity has ancient roots and which therefore should be protected.

To these facts Marco Galaverni, WWF Italy species and habitat manager and one of the researchers who participated in the study, adds that “while the population seemed to be finally recovering from the historical minimum of just a hundred wolves surviving in the 70s, reaching about 1600 individuals that hardly recovered part of the original range in the peninsula and in the Alps, a new wave of poaching is causing hundreds of victims every year, with firearms and poisoned baits. There is a need for adequate monitoring that allows for constant information on the species.”

Therefore, in Italy, we have a particular and rare subspecies of wolf which represents a heritage of genetic biodiversity to be defended and protected. To this appeal many are the scholars of the various disciplines who are responding, spending themselves in hard and difficult work to monitor and protect wolves.

It is important to make the work of these people known and to spread the culture of acceptance and coexistence between men and wolves, to achieve positive results that are not dictated by ancient prejudices and emotions, but by an objective and scientific approach. The dissemination and education activity is therefore as important as that of study and research.

Therefore, you can count among the best supporters and advocates not only biologists and researchers, but also nature photographers and park guards, communicators and teachers. After centuries of persecution and wolf hunting, a competitive relationship is no longer acceptable in our time, on the contrary it is our duty to study and find compatible solutions that allow us to preserve the wealth of wild creatures that populate our country and the whole Earth.

Un mare in montagna in Italy Credit Brunella Pernigotti

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