|C. l. italicus, Abruzzo National Park, Italy|
|Subspecies:||C. l. italicus|
|Canis lupus italicus
|Italian wolf range|
The Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) is a subspecies of grey wolf native to the Italian Peninsula. It inhabits the mountainous areas of the Apennines and western Alps, though it is undergoing a process of expansion towards the north and east. As of 2005, the Italian wolf population is estimated to consist of 500 individuals. It has been strictly protected in Italy since the 1970s, when the population reached a low of 70-100 individuals. The population is increasing in number, though illegal hunting and persecution still constitute a threat. Since 1990s, the Italian wolf's range has expanded into southwestern France and Switzerland. Although not universally recognised as a distinct subspecies, it nonetheless possesses a unique mtDNA haplotype and a distinct skull morphology.
The Italian wolf weighs an average of 30-35 kg, though some large males have been weighed at 40-45 kg. It measures 110-150 cm in body length and 50-70 in shoulder height. The pelt is generally of a grey-fulvous colour, which reddens in summer. The belly and cheeks are more lightly coloured and dark bands are present on the back, tail tip and occasionally along the forelimbs. Melanists have been reported in the north-central Appennines, though their origin is unknown, as some melanistic individuals show no sign of wolf-dog hybridisation. It typically lives in packs of 2-7 individuals.
The Italian wolf was first recognised as a distinct subspecies in 1921 by zoologist Giuseppe Altobello, who noted that its colour and skull differed from that of the common European wolf. He described the Italian population's skull as being rounder in form than that of the typical European wolf, with smaller teeth closely approaching those of dogs and golden jackals in appearance. Altobello's classification was later rejected by several authors, including Reginald Innes Pocock, who synonymised C. l. italicus with C. l. lupus. In 2002, the morphological distinctiveness of the Italian wolf was reaffirmed with a study on grey wolf skulls from Italy, other Eurasian localities and dog skulls. The results of this assessment showed no overlap in the skull morphology of Italian wolves and other grey wolves and dogs. Among the discovered characteristics distinguishing the Italian wolf were its relatively narrow palate between the first premolars, a broad frontal shield and shallow jugal.
In 1992, an examination of the mtDNA of 26 grey wolf populations worldwide revealed that the Italian wolf has a unique mitochondrial haplotype not shared by any other grey wolf population. Further tests on grey wolf mtDNA revealed that, unlike several European grey wolf populations, Italian wolves do not share haplotypes with either other grey wolves or domestic dogs. A later study showed that the Italian wolf shares haplotypes with extinct ancient Eurasian and Beringian wolves.
Range and legal status
The Italian wolf was widespread in the Italian Peninsula, including Sicily, up until the mid 1800s. The extermination of the grey wolf in Italy was not as complete as in Northern Europe, due to greater cultural tolerance of the species. It was largely extirpated in the Alps during the 1920s, and disappeared from Sicily in the 1940s. Its range along the south-central Appennines was still relatively continuous by the 1950s, though this population was reduced in the decades after World War II because of widespread poisoning campaigns. At least 400-500 wolves were killed between 1960-1970, with the population reaching an all time low in the early 1970s. The last documented wolf in the northern Appennines was killed in Santo Stefano d'Aveto, Genoa in 1946, though this was an isolated individual, as the local wolf population had long been extinct.
The Italian wolf was first given legal protection on 23 July 1971, with a nationwide population census being taken in 1973. This census was funded by the Italian branch of World Wide Fund for Nature as part of a conservation plan dubbed "Operation Saint Francis". The census revealed that the Italian wolf population consisted of 100-110 individuals distributed throughout a fragmented range in the main mountainous aras of south-central Italy, from the Sibillini to La Sila. In 1983, the population had reached 200-220 individuals inhabiting two unconnected areas in central and southern Italy. By the late 1990s, it was estimated that the Italian wolf population had increased to 400-500 individuals with a continuous distribution along the entire Appennines, from Aspromonte to the Maritime Alps, with some isolated populations in Tuscany and Lazio. In 2008, a wolf carcass was discovered in the Fiemme Valley in Trentino, and by 2010, 45-55 wolves were estimated to have recolonised Piedmont.
The Italian wolf was first sighted in France in 1992. In the two decades following its initial recolonisation, the wolf has expanded its range at the west of the Rhone, in the Massif Central, the eastern Pyrenees, and the Jura and Vosges Mountains.
The first evidence of grey wolf expansion into Switzerland occurred in 1995-1996 in the southern Canton of Valais, where around 100 sheep had been killed. In 1998-1999, 40 sheep were killed and two wolves found dead from poaching and car collisions.
In Latin and Italian culture
The animal features prominently in both Roman and later Italian cultures. In Roman mythology, the wolf played a role in the founding of Rome by suckling the twins Romulus and Remus. The wolf was also considered sacred to Mars, and to see a wolf before going into battle was considered a good omen. The origin of the myth can be traced back to a wolf cult among the neighbouring Sabines. The Sabines had two words for wolf: hirpus (used in religious contexts) and lupus, the latter of which was incorporated into Latin. Negative attitudes towards wolves in Italy largely began with the Lombard invasion, which brought with it a cultural hatred of wolves common to Germanic peoples. The belief in lupe menare/lupi mannari (werewolves) was still widespread in Italy during the early 1920s, and it was once traditional among rural people to cover their faces when resting outside at night, as it was thought that sleeping whilst facing the full moon could transform the sleeper into a wolf. The wolf also featured prominently in Italian folk medicine. Baby colic was treated by tying a sack filled with a piece of wolf gut around the child's neck, while miscarriages were prevented by tying a wolf's intestine around the mother's abdomen. Rheumatism and tonsillitis were treated with wolf fat, while a tooth or tuft of fur was worn as a talisman against the evil eye.
Although Italy has no records of wolf attacks on humans after World War II and the eradication of rabies in the 1960s, historians examining church and administrative records from northern Italy's central Po Valley region (which includes a part of modern day Switzerland) found 440 cases of wolves attacking people between the 15th and 19th centuries. The 19th century records show that between 1801-1825, there were 112 attacks, 77 of which resulted in death. Of these cases, only five were attributed to rabid animals.
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