Answers to the most frequent questions about the species.
The most recent WAG (Wolf Alpine Group) Report, considering the Alps defined after the Alpine Convention and putting together all the data collected at the Alpine scale is outdated, since it dates back to 2015-2016. In 2015-2016, the wolf alpine population had expanded to the Central-Eastern part. In the same time the Dinaric population had also expanded northward, while the population had increased in density in the Western part of the Alps of Italy and France. In those areas wolves had reached hills and expanded beyond the Alpine chain. The number of packs and pairs was increasing over the countries, with the main population increase occurring in the Western Alps of Italy and France. This last update in 2015-2016 recorded 65 wolf packs and 12 pairs over the Alps, with the great majority of them located in the Western part between Italy and France.
Unfortunately, we do not know exactly yet, but in 2020-2021 the first monitoring survey of the species is planned on national territory, with Ispra coordination, on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Environment, and in collaboration with the LIFE WolfAlps EU project for the Alpine regions. Thanks to the LIFE WolfAlps project (2013-2018) we have the last estimation for the Italian regions.
The latest assessment of the status of the population, conducted during the winter of 2019-2020, indicates 81 reproducing wolf packs in the country. The number of wolves is estimated at between 530 and 630 individuals at present, with a growth rate slightly lower than the average growth rate of 13% estimated from previous years. The number and distribution of wolves in France is thus still growing.
The first pack was formed in 2016 on a military training area (Allentsteig). In the following years, there was again one pack in 2017, three packs in 2018 and 2019 and probably only one pack in 2020. The number of confirmed adult and subadult wolves increased from 6 in 2016 to 32 in 2019. All packs are located in the lowlands of Northern Austria.
Similar monitoring techniques are applied over the Alpine countries, which basically consist in sign surveys, snow-tracking sessions in winter and wolf howling sessions in summer, all associated with standardized non-invasive molecular sampling and systematic and opportunistic camera-trapping. According to the levels of wolf occurrences, the combination of these monitoring tools vary between countries. A few pilot studies using GPS marked wolves are also used for specific purposes on wolf spatial use (Italy, Slovenia) or predator-prey studies (France). The LIFE WolfAlps project (2013-2018) developed a standardized and unified wolf monitoring strategy with standard criteria and a unique network for the Italian Alps from west to east, together with Slovenia, now applied all over the Italian Alps in coherence with the WAG (Wolf Alpine Group) criteria.
Wolf-howling is a non invasive sampling technique that is based on the wolf’s natural tendency to howl when stimulated. It consists of the emission of “artificial” howls, which have a wolf-like wavelength and frequency. The wolf-howling technique provides indications about the reproduction of the dominant pair thanks to the pups’ voice recognition. The sonogram analysis of the registered howls with specific software allows to identify the number of wolves howling. This technique is mainly used in summer, when litters are present.
Snow tracking is a non-invasive sampling technique that consists in tracing the tracks of wolves, following their movement when there is snow on the ground. This technique gives indications about the minimal number of animals present and facilitates the biological samples collection (urine and scats), material from which the wolf DNA can be extracted through molecular genetic analysis. All the data obtained with snow-tracking, together with the results of molecular genetic analysis and camera trapping, contribute to the pack size evaluation and of the minimum estimate of the wolves present in a territory in a given time interval (minimum number of wolves actually counted).