The Italian Story

We’ve begun laying the ground work for a Documentary about the Italian Story. Brunella Pernigotti lives and works in Italy. She’s traveled extensively throughout the Italian countryside in search of stories about people and the Italian gray wolf. The following is a collection of some of her interviews with Italian wolf advocates she’s met along the way.

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Interview by Brunella Pernigotti

Wolves have been persecuted and killed all over the world, but for different reasons. In Italy, for instance, the main cause of poaching and killing wolves is the conflict between farmers and predators. Erika Ottone, in her own words explains to us the situation and the possible solutions:

“MAN-WOLF CONFLICT: A SOCIAL-CULTURAL, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL ISSUE by Erika Ottone, veterinary surgeon Spec.TePACS, GPCert (EXAP).

Predations on domestic livestock are one of the main conservation problems of the Wolf, Canis lupus (Fernandez-Gil et al 2016; Mech & Boitani, 2003). The predations are concentrated above all in the areas where the farmers do not adopt correct breeding practices that guarantee the custody and the minimum means of protecting the livestock (Linnell & Boitani, 2012; Marino et al., 2016).
Checking the predations on the livestock is an activity carried out by a veterinary surgeon operating within the environmental managing agency and it allows to obtain information on management methods and above all to establish direct contact with the farmers of the territory. In fact, the ultimate goal of this activity is the identification of effective prevention and damage control plans for the livestock sector through the adoption of prevention tools and adequate breeding practices that could significantly reduce compensation damages and costs (Dalmasso et al ., 2012; Reinhardt et al., 2012)

Erika Ottone works with a Livestock farmer in Italy

A careful analysis of the collected information shows that the conflict between man and wolf is a socio-cultural, economic and political problem. The inadequacy of farm management systems can be attributed to the inefficient economic exploitation of the livestock sector, to the lack of willingness to adapt its management to an environmental context in which a predator is present, to the divulgation of incorrect information. There aren’t only the farmers involved in the men-wolves conflict, but all the citizens can favor the coexistence of men and wolves with their daily choices.

In the National Park of Pollino PNP, engaged for some time in monitoring the conflict between canine and zootechnics, a medical-legal verification activity was conducted on predations to domestic livestock, following a standardized procedure that includes, in addition to the report of the anatomical-pathological investigation, the detection of environmental facts and information related to the management of farms.

National Park of Pollino PNP

The analysis of the number of predations in relation to the number of farms operating in the area, and to the management and environmental context, has made it possible to identify “critical areas” in which the damage caused by predation is serious and frequent only in some of the farms present in the area. The analysis of the management methods of the affected farms confirms that improper management of the farm and the absence of effective precautionary measures, such as security, guard trained dogs, suitable fences and stables for night shelter of animals, may be the main predisposing factors to the high number of predations in that farm. (Dondina et al., 2015; Ciucci et al., 2018).
Therefore, the adoption of prevention tools and appropriate breeding practices identified for each farm could significantly reduce the damage (Dalmasso et al., 2012; Reinhardt et al., 2012). The PNP and other Italian parks, don’t limit themselves to indicate and suggest management solutions but they also  help the farms to realize suitable fences and deliver dogs on free loan of use with a stock of biscuits for dogs, thanks to the collaboration of some pet-food companies.
The lack of adequacy of management systems in some cases is linked to a lack of will to change and adapt one’s own developed and inherited farm managing system that was born in the past, and that now doesn’t fit to a natural context in which  predators are back. Farmers often report: “I have always done so, my grandfather and my father did so, now, just because you wanted wolves, have I to change?” It is easy to find a culprit and it is certainly easier to indulge than to educate; it is not easy to tell and explain the anthropic impact on nature, how man has changed the territory and how the wolf is now entering and adapting in a modified environmental context. It is not easy, yet in the work of monitoring the man-wolf conflict it is essential to engage in education and the divulgation of correct information.
In some cases, management inadequacy is also the consequence of difficult economic conditions. Farmers in large part are grouped together, thinking about their future, in a mood of pessimism. This situation is not only attributable to the conflict with the wolf, as the farmers themselves admit, but also to the poor economic valorization and the scarce consideration the farmers have: it often leads them to feel inadequate to the new social contexts. All the farmers operating in the area are aware of the presence of the wolf and the possibility of suffering predation, they know well that their animals are prey and that the predatory event is part of the natural role of a super predator such as the wolf, the problem is the repetition of predations, is the chronicity of the phenomenon.
Unfortunately the precarious and frustrating situation that the sector is experiencing, the divulgation of incorrect information and the media exploitation of the “wolf question” mean that the predatory event, which certainly creates significant damage to the farmer, becomes the scapegoat of a situation that has its roots in an inadequate economic, social, cultural and political system. Of course, we do not want to diminish the damage of predations on domestic livestock suffered by the farmer, damage which is recognized, compensated and which represents an opportunity for investigation aimed to improve the farm management methods, but certainly the damage in question would be perceived differently by the farmers in a greater economic and social development of the livestock sector.
The improvement of the economic and social situation can and must be the prerogative of everyone: every single citizen can give value to the local animal husbandry by buying its good products, and helping in the education and divulgation of correct information, always checking the sources, inquiring and asking experts in the field. Therefore, it is not correct if we speak about a conflict between livestock and wolves, limiting the issue to the farming sector alone, but it is right when we speak about a Man-Wolf conflict. We are all responsible through our choices of this conflict which, with good will and without exploitation, can change into coexistence.”

Erika Ottone, veterinary surgeon

Featured photography Of wolf by Antonio Iannibelli

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The 2018 Wolf Festival in Italy…

Between Turin and Castelluccio di Porretta Terme there are about 400 kilometers. A pleasant journey through the hills of Asti, which then turn into those of Piacenza, and then enter the rich and dark earth territory of Bologna. As we drove the car we were singing all the way accompanied by the windshield wipers: Mirco, my companion, drives and I let myself be brought along, and looking lazily out of the window.

Manservisi Castle Doorway

We arrived in the afternoon, when the light of a rainy day is fading. We meet with our friends from Milano and together we walk the few meters of paved path that leads to the entrance of the Castle of Manservisi and … voilà, immediately we are immersed in a warm, festive and welcoming atmosphere.

Manservisi Castle

Just in time to greet the “hosts” Maria and Antonio, complete the reception procedure and become familiar with the meanders of the Castle in order to be able to find the way to our room, and we are immediately attracted by the voices and lights of the conference room, where the presentation of the festival is about to officially begin. There are hundreds of photos of wild wolves exposed in the exhibition and, sitting in the parterre, it seems to be really in the middle of a pack. When the magical notes of the musician Oreste Filippi spread, they enchant me and, listening to them with my eyes closed, I have the feeling of being in peace with the world, in the middle of my life and exactly where I should be.

In the photograph Antonio Iannibelli (holding the microphone) and Maria Perrone.

As I looked around in the other rooms, then, I was surprised by all the smiles of the people I met. They are all guests of the Festival, like the biologist and writer Alice Cipriani and the painter Marina Fusari. I lost myself among all the books on display, I admire the watercolors and the images, I absorb every color or word concerning the wolves.

During a good and convivial dinner we meet other participants of the festival who share the table with us: many have come from every corner of Italy to learn, deepen their knowledge, and get more information about this fascinating, resilient and elusive animal. I think I’m like a little girl on a school trip.

During the evening after dinner, despite the bad weather, we try to come out in a group for a simulation of wolf howling: a very suggestive experience, immersed in the darkness of the forest to listen in silence to its noises. Unfortunately, as we had anticipated because of the bad weather, the wolves do not respond. We seemed to be the only creatures out in the bad weather.

Sleeping in the dorm rooms with our friends increased the feeling of being back in our youth and we found ourselves laughing at silly things in the dark cabin just before before falling asleep.

…Coming to the Festival of the Wolf is useful for me, therefore, to know other Italian realities, to establish parallels and differences…

On Saturday, for most of the day, I found myself saturated with news, updates, useful or curious information, thanks to the interesting interventions of the various figures of specialists that arrived from different areas of Italy. The specialists alternated on stage in the conference room, and with friendly simple language, that made us spend many hours without a moment of boredom or fatigue.

Photo: The panelists Fabio Quinto, Gabriella Rizzardini, Francesca Ciuti, Erika Ottone speaking

My passion and my sense of justice, that leads me to defend every creature in a position of disadvantage, have led me over the years to know quite well the situation in the Alps, especially in my Val di Susa, in Piedmont, where wolves returned only in the 90s, cautious and almost invisible. This is in fact a valley close to Turin, with a high anthropic density and a geological conformation not very welcoming, since the highest mountains, which would provide an ideal refuge far from the men, have steep and rocky walls,. While the valley bottom is narrow, crossed by roads, highways and railways. It’s a difficult environment for the settlement of wolves, yet these, once again demonstrating patience and determination, have managed to settle and form some permanent packs. Coming to the Festival of the Wolf is useful for me, therefore, to know other Italian realities, to establish parallels and differences.

Lastly, my intention is also to interview some women, protagonists of the Festival, to know the deep motivations that have persuaded them to take care of wolves, in their different fields. At the end of all the interventions I approach a couple of them to ask some questions.

I’ve always been a lover of nature, wildlife and in particular of the wolf that for me is the emblem of freedom. ~Erika Ottone

The first one is Erika Ottone – Veterinary surgeon with experience in rescue, treatment and rehabilitation of wild animals, wildlife monitoring and environmental education. From 2017 she works for the Pollino National Park Authority in Basilicata, dealing with monitoring and assessment of livestock predations by wildlife in the context of the project “Living with the wolf, knowing and preserving”

Erika says: “I’ve always been a lover of nature, wildlife and in particular of the wolf that for me is the emblem of freedom. I have been lucky to have a lot of experience in environmental education, so I realized that conservation cannot be separated from education. All conservation projects are not worth much if they are not accompanied by a sensitization activity. Currently I work as a veterinarian, certifying the predations on domestic animals by wild animals and so I have the opportunity to talk with breeders and educate them, to provide them with correct and current information and to make sure that they leave their old beliefs and that wrong cultural heritage that leads them to hate wolves. We try to intervene also to improve their life that is often economically precarious.”

Question: “So I understand that in the Parco del Pollino the biggest problem is the difficult coexistence of wolves and shepherds. But are there phenomena of poaching and illegal hunting?”

Erika: “Unfortunately, poaching is there but it is a little known problem, because there is silence and fear to denounce. For this reason, going to the farms in that area, I can talk with people who work and are always present and, as they live in the mountain, they know what happens: I explain to them that killing a wolf is useless, because one died, another comes, instead they must understand that we are there to improve the lives of everyone: breeders and wild animals.”

Question: “According to the Native Americans, the wolf is sacred, it is to protect and care for and represents the medicine of the world. Can we say that the wolf is the medicine for Italy? How could it be? ”

Photo: Erika Ottone

Erika: “In Italy, the wolf is the guardian of our mountains. Thanks to its natural role at the top of the food chain, it controls numerically wild animals and makes selection also on domestic ones. He is the guardian of an ancestral culture and in my opinion he is also a hidden friend of the breeders, because for centuries they have lived together on the same lands, they are roommates who basically take care of them even if in a different way. Now the situation is difficult because there is a struggle between them and that is why we have to spread a new vision of the role of the wolf, in order to let it continue to be the guardian of our mountains. ”

Therefore, according to the words of Erika, in Italy we could change the phrase “Medicine of the wolf” into “Education of the wolf”.

From Erika’s stories I understand that this slim, discreet figure of a small, great woman with expressive eyes, has made a difference. She did not get lost along the rough paths, overwhelmed by strong breeders, who are accustomed to dealing with veterinarians belonging to the so-called strong sex. Instead she has persevered thanks to her expertise and sensitivity. I deduced that she has succeeded, because of her grace, to perform the miracle of popularizing the science, the knowledge of the wolf and to educate the local populations of farmers to a more peaceful coexistence with the “mountain keepers”.

The other interesting protagonist of my interviews is Maria Perrone, a naturalist photographer, web content manager and an excellent organizer of the event. Her companion, who shares with her his life and passions, is the writer and naturalist photographer Antonio Iannibelli. He has loved wolves since his grandfather used to guide him through the paths of their kingdom, in the Pollino National Park. Together Antonio and Maria founded the association “Provediemozioni” and together they organize many initiatives related to the wolf: she mainly takes care of the contents of the blogs and the communication and organization of events such as the Festa del Lupo, which lasts three days, takes place every two years and which is now at its sixth edition with ever-increasing success. First of all, I congratulate Maria for her punctual and precise direction, thanks to which these days are unfolding perfectly: I can only imagine the great commitment and the effort behind it, so that everything runs smoothly. To my question about why a woman like her, with a work so far from the natural environment has approached the wolves, her answer is disarming and sincere: for love. It is love that leads a woman to devote herself entirely to a passion, and in this case it is love for her husband, who introduced her and guided her through the woods during her first steps in search for wolves to photograph. She has passion, the passion that drives a woman to love and therefore to defend. Here are her words.

I can tell that only after two years of useless hikes made at 4 am, often with a temperature of -17 degrees Celsius, I could see my first wolf. ~Maria Perrone

Maria: “Why wolves? Because I met Antonio who infected me with his love for the wild nature and for the wolves. I am a very passionate woman and if I am interested in something, I like to understand it deeply. So, beyond what he told me, I started looking for and finding contradictory information about this animal: who defends it and who wants to kill it. Then my instinct for the defense of the weakest came out. The Festa del Lupo was born from this idea of reading, talking and telling about one’s own experiences. For example, I can tell that only after two years of useless hikes made at 4 am, often with a temperature of -17 degrees Celsius, I could see my first wolf. I wrote an article about my first sighting, because it seems that before me, I mean in 2008, no woman had ever photographed a wild wolf in Italy. In fact, the first time I saw them I was so excited that I did not want to detach myself from the binoculars to take the camera, with the risk of losing sight of them. I think the wolves wanted to test me, because after that time, I started to spot them and take pictures of them much more often. Thus, the Wolf Festival is also an opportunity to share scientific knowledge and experiences in the field. For me, then, that I have an organizational and precise mind, that I put to good use for my work but in a completely different field, it was immediately congenial to create this event. I must say that this edition had much better results than ever because we changed the format to make the interventions of the experts more appealing. We had a really interested and motivated audience, who has reached this place on the mountain on purpose, heading out on a long journey with rain and fog, doing many kilometers, (as you have done for example), to hear about wolves.

Question: “I ask you the question I always ask everyone: the wolf is sacred to the Native Americans and is considered a medicine that cares. What does it represent for Italy? ”

Maria: “In general, those approaching the wolf approach the wilderness and this leads to living with less fear and greater openness. With Antonio I started going out into the woods at night and hearing disturbing noises. But he, who was really a great teacher to me, says that you are afraid of things that you do not know, so if you can identify and name the noises you hear, you do not fear them anymore. For example, in addition to the wolf, he taught me not to fear other wild animals, even the viper. So loving the wolf means learning not to be afraid and, ultimately, not to fear diversity and change. Finally, to your question about why a woman is passionate about wolves, I answer because women identify with wolves because they are mothers, they defend their children, they are resilient; in fact, I have met some men who fear him, but I never met a woman or a child who told me they were afraid of it. We live in a world where people live with more and more fears and phobias, so I think the wolf can take care of our sick world “.

Photo: Maria Perrone

After thanking Maria, I consider that we women are close by nature to the meaning of life, to what reflects the concept of existence with so much force as that which nature expresses every day in all its manifestations. The cycle of life, death and life is respected in an almost sacred way by wolves, and also by healthy and balanced women; as Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her famous book “Women who run with wolves” and we, though immersed in a life seemingly far from these ancestral rhythms, we are irresistibly attracted to it. When I look at the mountains, I hear the call.

…It is not a single wolf to howl, but a whole pack: we can also hear the voices of the puppies (about five months old), who try to imitate the big ones with more acute howls, ending almost with yips…

As the day comes to a close we all relax and enjoy an excellent dinner. In the end, before gathering around the big fireplace, where the roasted chestnuts are crackling happily, waiting for Oreste to play his fascinating music again for us, we decide that it is time to go out for a walk to have a coffee at the bar of the village. The pungent cold of the clouds welcomes us outside the door, luckily the rain stopped, the fog is thinning and some lights can be glimpsed down into the valley. While we chatter noisily, our ears perceive an ancestral yet familiar sound, something that makes us dumb while we look at each other in disbelief: a few kilometers far from us, in the darkness of the forest that lies next to the village, there is a concert going on. It is not a single wolf to howl, but a whole pack: we can also hear the voices of the puppies (about five months old), who try to imitate the big ones with more acute howls, ending almost with yips. The whole thing lasts a few seconds, at the end the concert closes with the dark voice of an adult, leaving behind only the barking of the dogs of all the surrounding houses. We are astonished: as if, after talking about them all day, they decided to give us this exciting and unexpected gift. It will be difficult to fall asleep, after such an exciting experience, but we must try to sleep: the weather forecast bodes well for tomorrow’s excursion and the alarm clock is already on.

Gianluca Maini

When we open our eyes it is still dark and we don’t understand what’s the weather like, but we prepare ourselves with all the enthusiasm and charge that the event of last night gave us. The appointment is outside the Castle, with Gianluca Maini, biologist and naturalist and our passionate guide on the traces of the wolf in the Corno alle Scale Natural Park. After having managed to organize a small procession of cars, we queue and follow him along the asphalt road for a few kilometers, to the point where we leave the cars and we walk: a colorful and heterogeneous group of hikers, all armed with tools to walk and photograph and with the curiosity to climb along the paths of a forest that immediately appears fascinating in its hazy and fairy atmosphere. Gianluca explains to us, with the passion in his eyes, the mysteries of the packs that populate those areas, pointing us also to the secret place where a photo-trap is located, from which he extracts a memory card. He inserts the memory card into the laptop and immediately we all get close to him as curious children when Christmas presents are opened. Unfortunately there are no interesting passages in those last recordings, nevertheless we have learnt thanks to this moment what it means to do research in the field and known the taste of discovery.

Camera Trapping

We continue our trip on thick carpets of wet leaves or under high vaults of intricate branches of fir trees. We cross clearings and discover traces of wolves’ passages, whose diet is explained thanks to the visible remains. It may be the luck of beginners, however I also have the honor to find a fresh dropping!

Gianluca explains to us, with the passion in his eyes, the mysteries of the packs that populate those areas…

The day remains cloudy and the hike is rightly shortened when it is clear that the light drizzle is becoming real rain and that it will not stop soon.

I leave unwillingly that magical place, where I have learned a lot of secrets about its vegetation, its animals and its geological history. I think I would like to be with someone like Gianluca Maini also when I walk into the woods of my mountains: having an expert who explains to you in so a clear way what you can only ask yourself what it is, without ever having an answer, it is a precious opportunity.

Tracking wolves in the park.

Now Sunday is coming to an end and, back to the Castle, we just have the time to thank and greet with affection all the protagonists of this wonderful festival, to load our luggage in the car and take the road back to Turin, with the deep voice of the woods still in our ears.

Photo: Maria Perrone, Brunella Pernigotti and Antonio Iannibelli

I consider that we women are close by nature to the meaning of life, to what reflects the concept of existence with so much force as that which nature expresses every day in all its manifestations. ~Brunella Pernigotti

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By Brunella Pernigotti 
During this hot Italian summer I spent some days in a little Ligurian village, called Rezzo, in the Maritime Alps: this chain of mountains divides Piedmont, where I live, from Liguria and their climate is mitigated by the wet and warm drafts coming from the sea, which is very close to their slopes. For these reasons, Maritime Alps represent the ideal way for wolves to go along when they migrate from South to North of Italy, with the intention to stay or to head to the other European contries. In fact these mountains are covered by steep and thick woods where many wild animals live, but very few humans live.  

This is the official video of the park I visited

I wanted to have a closer look at those places, and to talk with a few inhabitants of that village: they are mostly shepherds or farmers, there is only one restaurant and a handful of bed & breakfasts.

The first night I spent there, I could hear some cries coming from the dark wood that spreads out on the mountain on the right side of the house that hosted me. The day after, I asked Bob, my host, for information, and he confirmed my thought: there are many deers, owls and foxes in the wood, but what I had heard in the distance was the cry of a wolf. Bob is an English man: he and his family used to come to Italy for tourism, but about 15 years ago, when they saw Rezzo, they fell in love with it, and decided to come live in Rezzo. They restored some little houses, and to host tourists, mainly foreign people. We started to talk about wolves, and he told me he thinks it’s a good news that wolves are back, but in the village many Italian people don’t think the same. 

Wolves come down from the top of the surrounding mountains when the weather is foggy, and sometimes they prey on a sheep or a calf. So I decided to make a little inquiry. First, I went into the restaurant of the village. I soon realized that it’s a usual hunters’ hangout: a big and beautiful deer’s antler was hanging on the main wall with the head of a wild boar and other lifeless trophies.  I asked the woman behind the bar if she knew some hunters, and she started laughing because there were many men in that room, all of them were hunters. So I started to make some questions, without showing my dislike for hunting. They told me that hunting was handed down from generation to generation as in those places there are “many dangerous wild animals” and farmers need to kill them to keep their economic resources healthy: foxes kill their hens, wild boars eat their potatoes and then, now… there are even the wolves! Pretending to be surprised, I asked: “Really?! The wolves? Have someone of you ever seen them?” Of course they have! “In the fog, just as you are in front of me, I saw it! It was looking at me, fearless… And then the morning after, a shepherd told me that some wolves had robbed a sheep. You see, it’s a problem getting worse and worse!” At that moment I asked them if they knew that wolves are a protected species, and that killing them is illegal, but they only did an angry gesture and said: “Rubbish!”…

Photograph by Brunella Pernigotti

The day after I headed to a shepherd that runs a ranch a few kilometers above the village. I met his wife, and I was able to talk peacefully & rationally with her about the return of wolves in those places. She told me she understands that wolves are wonderful and precious animals, and she would never think to kill them, but, she complained, when wolves prey on a sheep. And our government leaves the shepherd alone, and without any economic help. She explained that, according to the rules, they are equipped with an electrified enclosure.  Recently, one night, some wolves were able to go through it, and killed a sheep. The morning after, they called the rangers who made an inquiry that showed it was really a wolf that had eaten the animal.  Not only they didn’t get any compensation, but they had also to pay a fine, because the enclosure was too low. So now they are very disappointed, because they had been told that in case of a loss from wolves, they would be entitled to get some money as a compensation. In other words, there are government’s grants to help farmers if they are robbed by wolves, but, the woman said, nobody instructs farmers on what they need to do in order to be entitled to get a compensation.  

The long and the short of it is that I think that farmers should be helped, first with a good education, and training on how to use the non-lethal deterrents. They don’t even know what wolves mean for their working activities in terms of environmental balance: for instance it’s true that there are too many wild boars, but wolves should be considered as natural allies: in fact wolves kill them, and help to keep low the number of those damaging animals. On the contrary, humans think that an indiscriminate hunt of any wild animal is the solution.  

Photograph by Brunella Pernigotti

In the following days, I went along the path that wolves have been covering again for about 30 years, on their way from Apennines to Alps, that means from South to North of Italy and, further, to Europe.

In particular I walked through the Halfmoon Pass (Passo della Mezzaluna): it’s a famous mountain pass that ancient people used to carry goods by carts and mule trains. This path links sea and mountain areas, Liguria and Piedmont. Now biologists are monitoring this pass as it represents one of the most important ways for wolves to move. In winter it’s possible to track them very easily, whilst in summer they stay hidden, and keep far from humans that go trekking. It was so exciting to be in one of the Italian wolf kingdoms, and to imagine them walking. And maybe that very night, and on the same path where I was standing; watching that beautiful landscape with the blue line of the sea over there, and the high pastures all around me.    

Photograph by Brunella Pernigotti

 

About Brunella 

I love wolves and nature in general. Even if I’m not a biologist, I’m improving my knowledge of wolves and their problems to survive in my country, 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 a 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.
 

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An interview of Antonio Iannibelli, an Italian expert of wolves, photographer, and author. Interview by Brunella Pernigotti a Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin’s Italian Writer.

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

The following is Antonio Iannibelli’s book trailer

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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