Prevention of wolf attacks: examples from recently recolonised territories
Livestock damage is one of the main causes of conflict between humans and large carnivores. The conflict between wolves and livestock farming is particularly evident in recently recolonised areas, in alpine areas, but in recent years also in hilly and lowland areas, where, over the decades, farming systems have evolved in the absence of the wolf and do not always provide for farmer guardianship, let alone the use of prevention systems. The result is a strong impact, in terms of economic damage, psychological and social ripersussions on the breeders, who consequently develop an attitude of aversion and intolerance towards the predator.
Reducing the impact of wolf predation on domestic livestock to economically acceptable and socially tolerable levels, through the identification and adoption of defence and prevention systems and the adaptation of breeding systems to the renewed presence of the wolf, is therefore a strategic priority action to guarantee the maintenance and development of traditional livestock activities and the long-term conservation of the wolf in the Alpine territory.
In the Western Alps, farmers have been confronted with the presence of wolves for at least twenty years. Experience has shown that the constant availability and presence when needed of personnel capable of providing assistance and information to livestock farmers is effective in ensuring that livestock farmers do not feel abandoned or even regarded as less important than the wolf as a protected species. It is for this purpose that the LIFE WolfAlps EU project established the Wolf Prevention Intervention Units (WPIU).
To date there are a total of 42 WPIU in the Alps of which 28 in Italy, 2 in France, 7 in Slovenia and 5 in Austria. In Liguria there are 4 WPIUs, one for each province, in Piedmont 16 are operational in all provinces, in Valle d’Aosta 3, 4 in Lombardy and one in the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park.
In Piedmont, the WPIUs are made up of personnel from the SSN Veterinary Services, soldiers from the Carabinieri Forestali, provincial police officers and the Metropolitan City of Turin, and park personnel. They intervene to support professional and amateur breeders in the prevention of attacks, specifically in finding and setting up prevention systems, in assisting access to compensation measures and support for prevention, and in the correct use of guard dogs.
An overview of the interventions carried out (number of inspections, material supplied, etc.) by the teams in the year 2022 will be available shortly.
In mid-October, in the countryside of Bene Vagienna, in the province of Cuneo, the staff of one of the local WPIUs carried out some inspections to support the activities of professional and amateur farmers. In the Cuneo plain, the wolf has only recently made his comeback. After occupying the mountainous areas of the province of Cuneo, the predator is expanding its range of presence towards the foothills, the plains/hills and along the river.
The WPIU’s interventions in this area were aimed at a preventive evaluation of the most suitable systems to be applied in areas that have never been attacked by wolves and at a livestock farmer who, thanks to the use of various defence methods, has effectively reduced the impact of the predator.
In particular, with the first inspection at a horse farm, the veterinarian together with the owner, assessed the most vulnerable spots and times of year on the farm, in relation to the presence of small livestock and foals, which are most vulnerable in the first months of life. Around the fence enclosing the Tibetan goats and some hens and ponies, optical deterrents (fladry) have been applied, red nylon flags attached to a rope placed at a height of about 90 cm above the ground. Their movement causes them to be perceived by the wolf as a sort of physical barrier not to be crossed. Their effectiveness is, however, greater when combined with electrified wire, a solution recommended to the owner of the stables.
The second visit was useful to assess with the local Sambucan sheep farmer the actual need for a sixth guard dog in order to better protect the flock, which is often spread over several pastures at a distance from each other. The farmer experienced his first predations in 2019, he was later equipped with livestock protection dogs and, the LIFE WolfAlps EU project through the WPIU teams, provided him with electrified fencing and fladry that effectively reduced losses.
Assistance was also provided to two hobby farmers who keep a few livestock for amateur purposes to advise them on what improvements to make to their livestock enclosures to make them more effective against wolf attacks.