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Stories of People & Wolves: Interview of Antonio Iannibelli in Italy

An interview of Antonio Iannibelli, an Italian expert of wolves, photographer, and author. Interview by Brunella Pernigotti a Wolves of Douglas Co WI News Media & Films’ Italian Writer.

Click the following highlighted words for more information on Antonio Iannibelli’s book A Heart Among the Wolves by Antonio Iannibelli 

Antonio Iannibelli’s website Ethics and Naturalist Photography by Antonio Iannibelli

The Full Interview of Antonio Iannibelli by Brunella Pernigotti

Q: In few words could you please introduce yourself and describe what you are doing about the advocacy of Italian wolves?

A: I’m not a scientist or a public administrator, neither am I a hunter or a researcher: I’m just a private citizen who loves photography and nature and who has been spending his free time for many years tracking the Italian wolves of the Apennines.

My grandfather was a shepherd and when I was a child he taught me many lessons that are still helping me to track the wolves and to understand the secret of their success. I try to describe the wild wolves simply by means of my photos, I use the immediate effect of images to document some stories with a realistic language. I try to be neither too technical nor poetical. I would like to help to spread correct information about Italian wolves so that once people really know them, they won’t be able to hate these animals anymore.

Q: You were born in the heart of “Lucania” [Lucania, the modern Basilicata, means “The land of wolves” in the ancient dialect] and you have been travelling throughout the mountains of the Apennines since you were a child. From a geographical point of view, Italy is shaped like a T, with the Alps that edge it in the north and the Apennines; which are a sort of back-bone placed lengthwise from the north to the south. Now, we know that over the past centuries the Canis Lupus Italicus never became extinct in the Apennines. On the contrary in the Alps it was persecuted and the whole population was killed off. Then in the last century when, in the Seventies, wolves came back and naturally repopulated the Alps. What are the reasons of this difference, in your opinion?

All Photographs of wolves for this interview are by by Antonio Iannibelli

A: Yes, it’s true. I spent my childhood with my grandparents, shepherds and farmers, in the great “house” of Bosco [Wood] Magnano, that is situated in the heart of Pollino Park, in Basilicata. I loved studying wild animals much more than my school lessons, so my parents weren’t very indulgent. However, it was my grandfather that looked after me, and he himself had been born in a family of shepherds and hunters. My grandfather knew nature very well, and was an exceptional expert of big predators, such as wolves and eagles.

“I’m not a scientist or a public administrator, neither am I a hunter or a researcher: I’m just a private citizen who loves photography and nature and who has been spending his free time for many years tracking the Italian wolves of the Apennines.” ~Antonio Iannibelli

The Alps and the Apennines have a very different habitat, but you know wolves have a great ability to adapt and they can live well in both the places. The persecution from the hunters was more serious in the Alps. In the Alps there aren’t so many woods, and in winter the snow covers the ground for a longer period of time: these elements expose the wolves to greater risks, as they are traceable more easily, and the food is less available. Even the neighboring countries [France, Switzerland, Austria] are not much help, because they provide more exceptions to the international rules that should protect the wolves. Finally, the great biodiversity of Apennines and the morphology of their ground are the most proper house to our Canis Lupus Italicus. In fact, above all in the Central-Southern Apennines, our wolves have always been able to find more wild prey, and safe dens where they can breed their pups. Whilst, in the Alps the environment is less propitious.

Q: As far as I know, even the current wolf management is different in the Apennines, where it seems to be more fragmented than in the Alps, and it varies a lot from region to region. Do you think it’s true? And to what extent?

A: In Italy the wolves are protected according to a law which is the same in the whole state territory, but in the Alps there are some autonomous regions and provinces that sometimes ask and tries to receive approval to kill a controlled number of wolves per year: of course they do it for political and economic interests. However the situation is different among the other regions, too, and the reason is always the same: managing the wolves entails a lot of economic interests. In my opinion giving too much autonomy to our regions is not a good choice, and the International Rulebook adopted by Italy should discipline the wolves protection from the top, and by means of definite and clear rules.

Q: In your book you describe the experiences you’ve had from childhood up to now on tracking wolves. You illustrate when you used to go to herd the livestock with your grandfather. My question is: was he a particularly wise and enlightened man? Or did everybody in his village have his same belief; that wolves are not enemies, nor an obstacle to get rid of at all costs? And now, how do these stockmen feel about the present wolf management since they are the most exposed to coexistence with wolves?

A: My grandfather was strongly related to his territory and to his livestock: he supported his family working hard and he knew that the flock had to be protected and watched particularly against bandits who were very popular: in those days before and after the Second World War. That’s why he thought that the true problems were not the wolves, and that watching carefully the flock and owning good watchdogs was enough to keep wolves far away. In those days, then, it was common opinion to think wolves as useful animals, too: for example, when a tame animal died in the mountain woods it was hard to be found and buried, so it became food for wolves that prevented, in that way, the spreading of diseases. “Luckily there are wolves!” my grandfather was used to say. Usually this happened most often during the seasonal transhumance, when thousands of sheep went down from the mountains to the seaside. There were many missing, unwell, or injured animals that couldn’t be carried as the shepherds set out on the journey walking on old and steep sheep-tracks. Still today the few existing shepherds of my mountains consider the wolf as a useful animal with a great ability to survive: wolves are brainy and they can steal some sheep from some inexpert shepherd, but after all wolves prefer feeding on waste to risking a gunshot. It’s a kind of unwritten agreement between men and wolves which is respected from time immemorial.

Q: In spite of the European directives that provide the protection of wolves, these animals are often victims of poaching. Considering the recent public funding cutbacks, do you think the Italian forest rangers have the appropriate resources to fight against this serious problem?

A: I think that they have the needed tools and the resources, but often the will and the coordination of every force are not completely put into the field. Poaching in Italy is a plague out of control, not to mention the lack of information and coordination in the research and, finally, the want of the right tools to prevent wolves crashing against the various means of transport. Speaking of which, we know that a great number of wolves (and not only wolves) are killed being run over on roads, railways and even on protected areas paths (such as the recent case of the wolf killed in the Oasis Castel di Guido, near Rome). Roads should be made safer places by means of specific over-and-under-passes for wild animals, as it happens in other European countries, such as Austria and Germany.

“When, during a magical night, I saw a wolf beside me, I  thought I had really become a wild creature, too.” ~Antonio Iannibelli

Q: Let’s talk about hybrids and grown-wild dogs. They seem to be a big problem in the Apennines, whilst in the Alps anybody hasn’t yet caught sight of them. Could you please explain why?

A: As I told, the harder climate of the Alps doesn’t allow domestic animals to survive, so abandoned dogs die in few days; on the contrary, they can live and reproduce particularly in the Southern Apennines, where you can spot also goats and pigs gone wild. Therefore I think that the bad practice of letting dogs free to roam in the woods in Southern Italy is at the main cause of this problem that affects wolves when they come in contact. In the ridge of Apennines there are some packs of hybrids that reproduce. In Italy today we have some projects to monitor the wild hybrids (only a few dozen) but I think that a close watch on the abandoned and stray dogs (several thousands) would be enough. However, the wolves that live in the wilder areas of the Apennine ridge prefer attacking and eating to mating stray dogs that invade their territories.

Q: In your book you describe a lot of impressive encounters with these elusive and mysterious animals. Would you tell us the one you remember best?

A: Every encounter with a wolf is somehow a miracle: it’s Nature that appears in its wild sacrality. When, during a magical night, I saw a wolf beside me, I  thought I had really become a wild creature, too. When I was a child, I used to ask my grandfather to show me the wolves, and he wisely answered that I would be able to see them on condition that I became a sort of wolf, too. But, at that time, I often disbelieved my grandfather, and even the existence of wolves.
It was in autumn and I had got up in the middle of the night hoping to see the Monte Sole [Sun Mountain] pack. I was hidden in my usual place, waiting in silence for the new day, when I heard the bumps of two fighting deers. I grabbed my binoculars, but was still too dark to see the two fighting males. Even though I couldn’t see off to the side of me, I felt I was being watched so I turned instinctively. The more my eyesight adjusted, the more I realized that there was a wolf by my side: obviously the clashing antlers hadn’t attracted just my attention. The enchanted place, the magical night, the wolf by my side, that was watching the same event I was; reminded me of my grandfather’s words.

Q: The wolves are the symbol of wild life and freedom for many of us. How much is it worth the life of even one of them for the future generations?

A: The wolf’s survival is the same as ours itself: killing even only one of them means robbing the environment of one useful part that keeps it complete. If we don’t make an effort now to defend wolves, in the future our children won’t be able to enjoy a healthy territory such as the Apennines, where there is such a great biodiversity.

Q: Are young people educated enough on how to protect the ecosystem where they live?

A: No, they aren’t. Unfortunately the future environmental education depends on our choices, too. Nowadays this subject is still very uncommon in the Italian schools.

Q: Wolves Of Douglas County Wisconsin promotes education and awareness to practice the preservation, and especially coexistence, based on empathy and the elimination of every kind of violence, the verbal one, as well. It supports and shows how much every wild species is worth; it’s against hunting, trapping, and practices the use of non lethal methods for the farmers to defend their livestock. Is there something like it in Italy? What are we doing?

A: Unfortunately we are not doing enough: as I told you before, the supervision is insufficient to reduce the conflicts with the farmers, who tend to take the law into their own hands, because they want to avoid the slow bureaucracy; the interventions which are often insufficient. Evert year more than 100 wolves are intentionally killed (shot, poisoned or trapped) and many are victims of the human presence, e.g. they are run over on roads and railways. In these last years the persecution of the wolves has increased. With the help of a group of friends, I realized a project of monitoring the causes of death of the Italian wolves Lupi morti in Italia Facebook Page It confirms this trend.

Q: Are the Italian farmers adequately informed of the non-lethal deterrent systems to defend their livestock?

A: Again, there is a great difference between the Alps and the Apennines, between the north and the south of Italy. In the north there is more awareness; but there are also more difficulties to use these means to protect the livestock because of the morphology of the area, and the extent of the rangelands. In the northern Apennines the farmers are well informed, but the situation is different from Region to Region: in Emilia-Romagna for instance there is a better situation than in Tuscany, where there are some farmers  who refuse to use any deterrent, and would like to definitively remove the wolves. In the south of Italy, on the contrary, the situation is better because the wolves have always been there and the farmers never let their livestock be unattended. In those places they don’t need any electrified fence or sonorous deterrent because the farmers coexist with the wolves from time immemorial. Besides the less rough area and the more temperate weather help the animals watch. Also here we can have some cases of poaching, but the guard dogs are very efficient and keep wolves away, so they must make do with the wastes of the cattle sheds or the remains of the butchery.

Q: Finally, besides asking you if there is something else you would like to say, I have for you the question that I always ask in my interviews: what did the wolves teach you, during your life?

A: I’d like to add at least one thing: more than 15 years ago I created an event “The wolf celebration” (Festa del lupo 2018) in order to give correct information to the common people about the Italian wild wolf: it is a no profit event and it’s aimed to oppose the false stories that media propagate every day. Next biennial festival will be held from 2nd to 4th November 2018 at Castello Manservisi, in Castelluccio di Porretta Terme: http://castellomanservisi.it/wordpress/ All of you are invited!

What did the wolves teach me? It’s a good question. They taught me to live in harmony with nature, to respect every creature and, above all, not to waste our resources. My whole life has been influenced by the wolves, maybe because I was born in Lucania: this old name for Basilicata means “The Wolf’s Land” and it has an ancient Greek origin: λυκος [lukos]means wolf, even so my grandfather never told me false stories about the bad wolf. Watching their behavior taught me to be sincere and to do everything without asking anything in return, just as they do. Even though we persecute them, the wolves carry out their task which is essential for our survival, too. The wolves have learnt the meaning of coexistence . We haven’t!

Thank you very much for the time you devoted to us. Brunella

Photograph is the book cover of Antonio Iannibelli’s book A Heart Among the Wolves by Antonio Iannibelli 

Thank you Antonio Iannibelli for this interview! Then, since you are a naturalist photographer and an Italian expert of wolves, let’s make a list of your activities for our readers so they can read them on the Internet:

A blog on Italian wild wolves : http://italianwildwolf.com/info/

The bill of rights of the wolf : http://italianwildwolf.com/carta-dei-diritti-del-lupo/

Your book “A heart among the wolves”: http://antonioiannibelli.it/un-cuore-tra-i-lupi/

Your book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUq_AATOQ3A

Ethics and naturalist photography: http://antonioiannibelli.it/2016/02/11/etica-e-fotografia-naturalistica/

All the photographs of Italian wolves copyrighted by Antonio Iannibelli

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About Brunella Pernigotti

I am a lover of wolves and of Nature in general. With the means of knowledge and awareness, I try to devote myself to the protection of the environment and of the endangered species, as far as I can do. I live in Turin, Italy. I’m a teacher, a writer and a photographer. I published a novel and a book of tales and have to my credit about ten one-man exhibitions of photos. I’m member of the board of a no-profit association of Turin, “Tribù del Badnightcafè”, that organizes cultural and artistic events. Besides I created a group of volunteers to help women who are victim of domestic violence.

A day to day webdocumentary – A video journal filmed by Jim Brandenburg and directed by Laurent 

I’m a fan of Nature 365 and have the ap on my IPad.  Brandenburg and Joffrion’s daily webdocumentary present the viewer with beauty, serenity and spirituality of our natural world. I crave more of these videos and hope this series will continue in 2016.  ~Rachel

Source: 365 moments of nature, from January 1 to December 31, 2015. A video journal filmed by Jim Brandenburg and directed by Laurent Joffrion. A naturalist and poetic vision of the northern wild biotopes.

Introduction by Jim Brandenburg, wildlife photographer and filmmaker
For many years I filmed the forests around my wilderness home in the great northwoods and the wide-open prairies of my childhood. I had no particular project in mind; I simply enjoyed documenting the moods of the day and the coming and goings of the wild creatures that were almost like family to me. It became like a diary and for many years it was rare not to ‘write’ something with my camera nearly every day.

Those precious experiences and memories have now found a safe home where they can be shared with many of my friends from around the world. It surprised me how extensive this diary had become. Day by day, year after year the pages accumulated. The resulting journal found its voice. Each day a one minute impression of a unique event that I was fortunate to witness is presented. Less can be more in this case. Like a good poem, the material that is left out gives weight to what remains. Nature has blessed me with its gifts of subtle but powerful teaching. One might even describe these moments I give back as a form of a small prayer; a mindful effort to pay homage to a wild and natural living land.

There were themes that kept presenting themselves to me – like the resident wolf pack that over the years learned to trust my presence. The wolf is a recurring subject, perhaps more than any other. In their trust, secrets were revealed to my camera that were not known, even to science. Then on occasion I entered into another world and encountered a ghost from the past in the name of a Native American spirit. Those that lived a natural existence here for centuries before me have left a strong presence. I felt their presence and knew it was appropriate to include that spirit.

The seasons would usually slide into their nearly imperceptive rhythm and other times the land transformed overnight. The magic of living and embracing the grandeur of wild nature is heightened by dramatic weather changes that can leave city dwellers unbalanced. Nature has become the enemy to many. That is a dangerous condition.

I have tried to project the miracle as I saw it. A translation of the unknown gift we often don’t understand or even see. I hope the message was received and understood, better yet felt. For that I would be honored; the land and its creatures would be eternally thankful.

 Intentions by Laurent Joffrion, director
One day, Jim Brandenburg came to me with a mysterious gift. He gave me some hard drives filled with video clips that no one had ever seen. A work of several years in the northwoods and the great prairies of the Midwest, USA. His backyard at Ravenwood, where he lives, and Luverne, where he was born.
« It’s for you… he said, I don’t know what we can do with this, but perhaps we could work together ? »
An honor and a great challenge.
So I reviewed all of these videos. For hours and hours… And I found this remarkable body of work. I watched the seasons pass through the years. Spring blooms, fall colors, first snows, vast frozen horizons… I followed streams and canoed on preserved lakes; I wandered the great plains on the bison footsteps. Deep in the forest, I witnessed how the wolf pack evolved and their puppies grew; Wild orchids, migrating birds gathering, prairie dogs… I marveled at air bubbles trapped under transparent ice, at sparkling frost or morning silhouettes hiding in the fog. I contemplated northern lights, heard the loons call, slept under the stars…
For almost ten years, Jim filmed his natural environment, keeping an exclusive journal. Exceptional. These videos are remarkable as they come from a long term commitment, as they reflect a unique and poetic vision by Jim, and as they show the beauty and diversity of the great natural systems of the northern hemisphere, the boreal forest and the great plains, as they are when their wilderness is preserved. I don’t think I’ll ever have an other opportunity to work with such a body of work on a natural history subject.
Then, thinking about Jim’s previous successes such as Chased By The Light, Looking for the Summer or 93 Days of Spring, all built on the principle of one picture a day, I thought «Why don’t we present one daily video sequence, for the whole next year ? 365 original clips which, as a set, would reveal the pertinence of Jim’s documentary work. A journal; a collection of short and personal stories; an innovating web documentary offering an authentic and poetic vision of nature…»
This project, named Nature 365, was born from my connection with Jim, the discovery of his rare and precious video work, and from our common wish to share it with people. I hope that each person who will here discover this great wilderness, will appreciate it as much as I do.

Jim Brandenburg has published many bestsellers including: Chased by the Light, Looking for the Summer, Brother Wolf, White Wolf and Minnesota Images of Home. He has also published many young adult books including the National Geographic book titled Face to Face with Wolves. His movie and TV work includes filming with NHK in Japan, National Geographic Television Specials and the BBC television series “Life.” Several Brandenburg photographic exhibitions are planned in the US, Europe and Japan over the next several years.
Jim Brandenburg’s work can be seen on the web at http://www.jimbrandenburg.com or at the Brandenburg Gallery in Ely, Minnesota and Luverne, Minnesota.

About Laurent Joffrion
His passion for nature and his particular interest for the relationship that unites man with his environment inspire french director Laurent Joffrion to usually offer an optimistic vision of nature. Stories of artists who value biodiversity, stories about people committed to the preservation of their natural heritage, stories about synergies and conservation projects… His most important films have won awards at national and international festivals. Laurent Joffrion has worked with several television production companies, in France and abroad, and on the new medias by exploring innovating narrative forms. For this purpose, he created the multimedia company FollowFocus, which runs the Nature 365 channel : http://www.followfocus.fr

All images are from: Nature 365 Website

December 29, 2015 click HERE to watch the last video of the year. The following are Jim’s thoughts…

  
Once a wolf – Day 363 of 365

And thoughts…
This being the last wolf video of the year, I’d like to share some background on the continuing story of the Ravenwood wolves. The image of the wolf skull in this moment has a story with it that I felt you should hear.
Ravenwood is my home tucked in the wilds of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. It is the area where all the wolves in Nature365 were filmed. It’s a vast wild land that contains the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi. The huge Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is just outside my door. Only two major roads between my home and the North Pole would be crossed if one went that direction. My location is just four miles from Canada.
I moved there many years ago to be close to the only small pocket of wolf population that escaped extermination and near extinction in the contiguous U.S. Wolves have roamed this land since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. They have always been a crucial part of this ecosystem, and were here long before us humans and the white-tailed deer, that we love to hunt so very much. Wolves represent the wild as much as any animal I know. I needed to be close – to live with them to tell their story. For more than 35 years I’ve attempted to do just that through words and pictures. It hasn’t been easy but it certainly has been rewarding and even life changing.
When I first came to the wild Northwoods from the tamed prairie I saw the hatred for the wolf. It is not unique to Minnesota. I have seen that same fear and disgust in my travels all around the world, from Norway (one of the worst examples) to France. I only see a form of curious compassion in countries where the wolf has disappeared. That’s the way it goes – once we lose or destroy something there is often a new and fresher view and understanding. Perhaps a form of regret, and/or guilt, comes over the reflective and collective culture – a looking back.
In my studies and work with animals I have seen that the wolf is unique in how people perceive them. It is the most persecuted and misunderstood animal of them all. That is a story I expanded greatly upon in my book Brother Wolf. It is one reason I chose to spend my life with wolves and tell their story. I had thought over the years the work that some of us had done had made a difference.
I was rather startled by the attention that came my way because of the wolf connection ‘fame’. The wolf became a charismatic figure – it felt like a revolution had taken place. Movies were made like “Dances with Wolves”, hundreds of books were published and wolf centers were built like worship temples – bringing in thousands of people. I needed to retreat deeper into the forest from the rock star – like attention. At the same time I was terribly pleased to see the public’s new love for the wolf.
Then, the reality of a sad and deepening trend surfaced. The “a wolf got my deer” hunting crowd proposed a wolf hunt. Almost over night a bill was written and promoted by misguided legislators to satisfy the angry hunters and wolf haters. I never would have dreamed of such a development. The bill passed. The mystery is how it slipped by with 80% of Minnesotans opposing a wolf sport hunt. It is a complex and old sad story where misperceptions and scapegoating prevailed to achieve political ends. With resentment and competition towards wolves, it became easy to incite the willing with emotional tales that played to fears. Wolves were terrorists in our midst.
All of the wolves that you have been watching on these daily videos are gone now. I have not seen a wolf at Ravenwood in more than four years! Ever since the first wolf hunt the wolf family that I got to know so well was either shot or dispersed because of the stress because of the chaos that developed. As you have seen through the year, the wolf family is extremely closely knit. Not unlike the human family. I have seen the depression and confusion that overtakes the pack’s mood when one or two go missing. Those of you that have dogs know how they react when a prominent member of the human or dog family leaves. Same animal, with the same reaction – dogs are wolves. That’s why I have a hard time understanding the sport-killing concept.
One serious unintended (but not surprising) consequence happened once the hunt was in place. It’s rarely talked about, or even known in wolf circles. I have been in a unique position to see the profound change in a wolf pack caught up in that war… that’s what it looks and feels like to me. That consequence is that once Federal laws took protection away from the wolf and the state Department of Natural Resources allowed a hunt, it caused a kind of subtle permission to degrade the protective status or even “feeling” that wolves were off limits to kill. I know many of the wolves in my pack were killed illegally – the dam was opened and the culture gave its permission with an uncaring wink. I have heard first hand stories of local wolf haters shooting them out of season. Bragging goes on in the local bars; it’s a status thing with some (not all) in the hunting tribe – a badge of honor. One needs to live in the culture to see it. Secrets are revealed. I saw things that are lost to visitors.
Very few, if any have spent as much time as I have – living near the pack and in the midst of several generations of wolves being born and dying. I knew them all – some intimately. I hope this daily peek into my wolf world has helped some understand and see the magic of this remarkable animal. It’s a partnership that goes back 40,000 years or more when man invited the wolf into his family and then they became dogs.
The status of the wolf comes and goes in the Federal legal sense. For now they are safe in Minnesota. That will be challenged again I’m sure. If we care and value this national treasure I would encourage people to make even a small gesture to help. Howling for Wolves is a Minnesota based group that has made a huge difference in exposing the wolf’s plight. Please see their work here and contribute: http://www.howlingforwolves.org. I also am very proud to have worked with my friend Julia Huffman in making her documentary movie Medicine of the Wolf that tells the story of the hunt and reveals some intimate details of my wolf experiences at Ravenwood. One can purchase or rent the movie on iTunes or Julia’s website: http://www.medicineofthewolf.com.
There is a mix of sadness and relief in sharing this story. It has changed my life; things never remain the same – in nature and in culture. A combination of sadness and pride is also felt in seeing this year’s collection of moments end. A total of about six hours has been shown in the Nature365 series. It is at times difficult to see and comprehend how much time and effort I invested into this. When one is in love, measurements don’t matter. I was in love with my subject. I hope those that did not see all of the moments this past year will have the opportunity to view them during the next year as they will be replayed in full on this site.
Finally, my dear friends and colleagues at the editing studio in France did the incredible task of crafting each day from the hundreds of hours of video that I shot over the years. I give my deepest admiration and respect to Laurent Joffrion who conceived and directed this year’s NATURE 365 presentation. Benoit Maximos and Léo-Pol Jacquot patiently worked with Laurent and me through the year. I am indeed humbled and honored.
Jim Brandenburg