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WPIU Field Visit in Alpi Cozie

8 October 2021
Aree Protette Alpi Cozie

On September 8 and 9, Protected Areas of the Cozie Alps organized within the LIFE Wolfalps EU project a field visit focused on the use of livestock guarding dogs in the prevention of wolf attacks in the alpine pasture. The initiative was coordinated by Dr. Umberto Vesco, veterinarian responsible for the newly created Wolf Prevention Intervention Unit (WPIU). More than 40 LWA EU partners from Italy, France, Austria and Slovenia, plus a substantial delegation of veterinarians from the Turin ASL, who have had the opportunity to “touch” some virtuous realities in the defense of domestic animals from predation of the great carnivore.

The first stage of the two days involved the isolated and impervious vallone di Gran Dubbione, next to Val Chisone (To), where a transhumant flock of over 1000 sheep grazes. The territory used in summer by the shepherds Piero Pons and Patrik Bertalot and their livestock has very steep pastures interspersed with rock jumps along particularly isolated slopes, morphological characteristics that make it more difficult to monitor livestock and more dangerous attacks. Pons was one of the first breeders in Piedmont to acquire protection dogs and over the years, he experimented and discussed with technicians and colleagues. Thanks to the support offered since 2004 by the Orsiera Rocciavrè Nature Park, through the advice of Dr Silvia Dalmasso, for the pastoral integration of guardian dogs in flocks that mount, Pons improved management by obtaining progressively more balanced and reliable dogs in the different situations that occur during grazing.

The flock is defended by 8 dogs of the Abruzzese Maremmano Shepherd Dog and Pyrenean Mountain Dog breeds, which have allowed to avoid big attacks by wolves, even if sporadic predations still occur, especially on isolated animals. Pons and Bertalot emphasized to the participants that the wolf is one of the problems that make the job of the shepherd complicated, forced also to navigate between cumbersome bureaucracy and contradictory regulations. Thanks to the work of well-trained guardian dogs, the main cause of mortality among their sheep during the summer mound is not related to predation of the carnivore, but to inevitable accidents, between falls of stones and fallen animals, that happen in the steepest pastures.

The following stagetook place on the slopes of the ski area of Sestriere (To). Here, the participants met Carla Manzon, a shepherd who grazes about 1200 sheep in an area with a strong tourist vocation. Manzon has chosen to manage alone and independently a rather numerous flock and necessarily had to adopt livestock guarding dogs to protect the flock from the attacks of the predator. The presence of anti-wolf dogs in areas frequented by hikers and mountain bikers can be a problem for the safety of humans as four-legged shepherds can recognize them as a threat to the flock and attack them. Therefore, Manzon had to select dogs not too much reactive, and used to the presence of people, but she claim that even thought her dogs are tame and gentle, they work effectively against wolves.

The third farm visited was at the farm Bernard in Val di Thures, Cesana Torinese (To). It is a family conducted farm at 1800 m a.s.l. The owners live there all year long, coltivating land, raising their livestock and hay harvesting. Si tratta di una realtà a conduzione famigliare che sorge a 1800 metri di quota, dove i titolari abitano e lavorano tutto l’anno tra coltivazioni, fienagione e allevamento di bestiame. Bernard chose to raise cattle in the Scottish Highlands, because they are rustic animals, able to live outdoors even in the middle of winter, despite the abundant snowfall and the cold temperatures of the area. Usually, they are also able to defend themselves independently from the attacks of the wolves, but the moment of the delivery constitutes an opportunity for the predator. In the past the farm had a flock of sheeps and a livestock guarding dogs. Following the sale of sheep the dog has autonomously relocated to defend the herd of cattle Highland, contributing to the reduction of damage to a level considered tolerable. The owners also discussed with the participants the successes and difficulties encountered in the management of the dog to free pasture and the introduction of a second dog. Also in this case the grazing area is inserted in an area particularly frequented by tourists and hikers and this requires the use of calm dogs towards people, characteristic that does not reduce the effectiveness in case of attacks.

La due giorni si è conclusa, sempre nel comune di Cesana Torinese, in frazione Fenils, presso l’azienda agricola di Elena Manzon, sorella di Carla incontrata il giorno precedente, dove un piccolo gregge di pecore pascola i terreni che circondano l’agriturismo. Anche Elena ricorre ai cani da guardiania per la difesa dai lupi, in un contesto di elevata frequentazione turistica in cui è fondamentale l’utilizzo di cani ben socializzati, che non manifestino atteggiamenti aggressivi con gli esseri umani. In passato ha assistito personalmente a un attacco di lupo sulle sue pecore, sventato dal suo intervento e da quello dei cani da guardiania che si sono dimostrati efficaci contro il predatore pur restando socievoli con gli esseri umani.

Al workshop sul campo organizzato dalle Aree Protette delle Alpi Cozie hanno partecipato i rappresentanti di Città Metropolitana di Torino, Regione Liguria, Regione Valle d’Aosta, ERSAF ossia l’Ente regionale per i Servizi all’Agricoltura e alle Foreste della Lombardia, Parc Natioal du Mercantour, Office Français de la Biodiversité, Università di Vienna e Slovenia Forest Service, oltre ai veterinari delle ASL Città di Torino, TO3, TO4 e TO5. Particolarmente utili, oltre alla visita degli allevamenti, sono stati i momenti di discussione e presentazione che hanno consentito ai partecipanti di scambiare esperienze e opinioni su una sfida come la coesistenza lupi e attività umane che accomuna gran parte dei territori montani dei Paesi alpini. Il confronto tra attori che si occupano di queste problematiche è uno degli aspetti fondanti del progetto LIFE WolfAlps EU; la possibilità di organizzare e partecipare a un appuntamento internazionale dopo la pandemia da Covid-19 è stata una felice opportunità che ha regalato a tutti i presenti un rinnovato spirito di entusiasmo e positività.