The Abruzzi Apennines are close to Rome and Naples, but remain surprisingly wild. Their biological richness lies in vast beech forests, deep valleys and solitary mountain plateaus that are home to Italian wolves. Award-winning photojournalist Bruno D’Amicis has spent six years documenting the lives of these mysterious canids. “We need to redefine our relationship with large carnivores,” he says. “A cultural change is necessary so that wolves and humans can live alongside each other.”
Centuries of persecution wiped out grey wolves in much of Western Europe, and the population in Italy almost suffered the same fate. By the 1970s only about 100 Italian wolves Cams lupus italicus, a subspecies of the grey wolf, survived in a limited area in the central and southern Apennines, but the arrival of legal protection in 1976 enabled the animal to make a comeback. There are now about 1,000-2,000 wolves in Italy, with approximately 1,500 in the Apennines and 120 in the Italian Alps. According to Luigi Boitani, the chairman of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, the growth is mainly due to an increase in availability of wilder areas, with the abandonment of mountain and marginal agriculture; the wolves’ ability to feed on a variety of prey and willingness to disperse have enabled them to take full advantage.
However, the subspecies is coming into increasing conflict with humans, contending with poaching, persecution from farmers and dangers of hybridisation. “The control of free-ranging dogs and illegal killing using poison bait need to change,” says Boitani. Despite these challenges the European population of wolves in general is now thought to exceed 10,000, quadruple the total in the 19703-a success story welcomed by D’Amicis. “More than any other species the wolf has managed to touch human imagination.”