Monitoring the Alpine wolf population news

On line the first estimate of the Italian Alpine region wolf population

11 July 2022

The estimation of wolf population size in the Alpine regions, obtained in the frame of the first National Monitoring survey 2020/2021 is online. In the Alpine regions the estimate is of 946 wolves (with a 95% credibility interval: 822- 1099), distributed on a range that cover 37% of the Alpine region territory.

The first National Wolf monitoring was conducted in 2020-2021 following shared guidelines, which allowed a standardized throughout the entire Italian territory.

For the alpine regions population monitoring, analysis and data processing activities were coordinated by the Piedmont Large Carnivore Reference Center and the University of Turin (DBIOS) as part of the Life WolfAlps EU project, coordinated by the Maritime Alps Protected Areas. Everything was done in close synergy with ISPRA, which is responsible for coordination on a national scale. “Until now, information on wolves has been collected in a fragmented manner; this is the first time that the distribution and population size of this species has been estimated across Italy, based on a scientifically robust sampling design, and with a simultaneous data collection,” says Piero Genovesi, head of ISPRA’s Wildlife Coordination Service. In all, there are an estimated 3,307 (between 2,945 and 3,608) wolves over the entire Italian territory. “Proper wolf conservation and effective conflict management require scientifically robust data” Genovesi continues, “so the results of this study provide an essential knowledge base for institutions with responsibility for wolf conservation.

It is one of the first population-level estimates obtained in Europe, thus of great international significance. The estimate was obtained by applying innovative statistical models developed by an international team of three universities (Norwegian University of Life Sciences, University of Turin, and University of Chester) specialized in the study of abundance and trends of animal populations over time. Through this analysis, an accurate population size estimate was obtained, with an associated error range, a range that indicates the level of accuracy of the estimated value, called the credibility interval. Thus in 2020/2021 there are 946, with a range of 822 to 1099, wolves in the alpine regions. Of these, 680 (credibility interval: 602-774) individuals belong to the central-western part of the population and 266 (credibility interval: 204-343) belong to the central-eastern section of the population. The extent of the area where wolves are present is 41,600 km2, which is equivalent to 37% of the area of the Alpine regions.

There are 102 branches and 22 pairs in the Alpine regions (entire area-including hilly and lowland areas-of Liguria, Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Lombardy, the Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia), for a total of 124 breeding units. Most of them are concentrated in the western portion of the Alpine arc, where there are 91 packs/pairs. In the central eastern area, on the other hand, there are 33 packs/pairs, almost half of which have transregional territories: for example, 10 packs straddle the Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano and the Veneto region. Yet another confirmation of the need to have a uniform approach in monitoring that overcomes administrative fragmentation. Beware, however, to compare the number of wolf breeding units with past years, one must consider only the Alpine arc, where continuous monitoring of the species has been carried out since 1999. In the last assessment, carried out in 2017/2018 monitoring, a total of 51 reproductive units had been documented, rising to 103 in 2020/2021. “The wolf population has thus grown in the Italian Alpine arc in the last three years, even doubling both in the number of documented reproductive units and in the minimum distribution,” says Francesca Marucco, from the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology at the University of Turin, scientific manager of the LIFE WolfAlps EU project.

On line the first estimate of the Italian Alpine region wolf population - Life Wolfalps EU
wolf distribution and breeding pairs in 2020/2021: dark green dots are packs, light green are couples.

Results have been obtained thanks to a massive data gathering work, conducted in the

The results were achieved through an impressive data collection effort, carried out for the Alpine region exhaustively throughout the territory, including with the involvement of specially trained volunteers. Between October 2020 and April 2021, a total of 40,725 km were covered by the operators, which resulted in the collection of 10,672 signs of presence, including 5,636 droppings, 3,226 videos and photos. Wolves’ routes were tracked on snow for a total of 1605 km, and 71 dead wolves were recovered. An immense amount of field work made possible by the formation of an “Alpine Regions Wolf Network,” consisting of a group of institutional and volunteer personnel who have received specific training, operating continuously and extensively in the territory to collect all useful data for monitoring the species. The network consists of 1513 operators belonging to 160 Institutions and Associations distributed in the different provinces of the Italian Alpine regions. A network that has grown and gradually acquired more and more expertise since its birth in 1999 with the Lupo Piemonte project, and that has been enriched during the LIFE WolfAlps project (2013-2018) and therefore continues today with the LIFE WolfAlps EU project. “The creation of a national network of trained practitioners is one of the most important results of this work, because it is a real asset for biodiversity conservation on a national scale in the long term,” says Marucco.

On line the first estimate of the Italian Alpine region wolf population - Life Wolfalps EU
Transect realized for wolf monitoring in the Alpine regions in 2020/2021

Special thanks are therefore due to all those in the network who made this achievement possible, especially the volunteers, who at their own expense and in their free time made a vital contribution, and to the co-financiers of the LIFE project, and – in particular – to the Fondazione Capellino, the project’s first co-financier after the EU.

The estimation of breeding units is also part of a context of effective international collaboration, given the cross-border nature of the Alpine population, which includes Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. Collaboration brought about by the establishment of an international expert group, the Wolf Alpine Group, and by the LIFE WolfAlps EU project, whose main aim is to find a shared strategy for coexistence between human activities and wolves at the Alpine population level, thus transcending administrative boundaries.

The report is available at this LINK