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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-03112024-103517

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
From emergency to resource: managing the wolf in an anthropic environment of the Pisan hills
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Prof. Felicioli, Antonio
  • animal husbandry
  • Canis lupus
  • coexistence
  • human-modified landscape
  • hunting
Graduation session start date
Between the 19th and 20th centuries the wolf (Canis lupus) has suffered a dramatic decline that brought the specie close to extinction in many parts of Europe. Since the '70s of the 20th century, factors such as legal protection, improved habitats quality and mountains depopulation allowed the recovery of this predator. The wolf recovery in areas from which was previously eradicated, was occasionally present, or was absent for several decades has been followed by an intensification of the conflict with human activities, especially with animal husbandry. Many farmers were unprepared to deal with this new situation having abandoned over the years the use of protective measures such as fences, guardian dogs and the practice of follow and protect the flock.
This project was carried out in a highly anthropic area of the municipalities of Crespina-Lorenzana and Casciana Terme-Lari, where the presence of a stable and reproductive wolf pack composed by both Italian wolf and hybrids was recently documented by Coppola et al. (2022). Long-term information on this pack was collected by using noninvasive monitoring techniques. Furthermore, the diet of both adult and wolf pups of this pack was investigated for the first time to collect preliminary data on wolf pups diet composition and assess if adults operate a selective provision of food resources to developing pups. Results obtained showed that prey category in wolf pups diet did not differ from those of adults but significant differences were recorded in their occurrence in pups diet compared to adults ones. Despite being in a place affected by livestock farming, wild ungulates were found to be the main prey category in pups diet as for adults. The coypus, an alien animal present in the countryside and defined as pest, was found both in the feces of adults and pups. However, a selective provision of medium-size mammals and birds prey categories for pups by adults occurred. In order to study the food habits of more packs living in an anthropized areas rich in human activity, part of PhD project was carried out during autumn-winter of 2022 in the north of Portugal where the diet of two stable packs of Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) was analyzed. The study area was in two mountainous areas close to the Spanish border. Both regions presented a very low density of wild ungulates and intensive livestock production. 60 scats were analyzed, and the result showed that these packs fed mainly on livestock, especially goats and cows. The wolf's dependence on livestock can be explained by the scarcity of wild prey and the high density of livestock. Conservation of wolves in such impoverished areas depends on an efficient livestock depredation management plan and the reintroduction of native prey species.
Furthermore, the relationship of this predator with human activity have been investigated also with a self-administered questionnaire. In this area, prevention systems are not adopted by farmers, resulting in a high impact of the wolf on livestock, which has triggered a conflict between human activities and the predator. In this scenario, the adoption of small prevention strategies by farmers has led to a decrease in predation, which is decisive for promoting wolf-human coexistence. Wild boar drive hunting does not appear to affect the wolf pack presence in the area.
The questionnaire concerned the investigation of people’s attitude toward the return of the wolf in study area. In total, 131 valid responses were collected in 4 months in 2023. The results of all the aspects investigated in this research have made it possible to evaluate that many aspects of wolf management are linked not only to the economic issue but also to the emotional one. Reducing such levels of conflicts, it is a prerequisite for successful conservation of this predator.
Further investigations are desirable to monitor pack hybridization level and turnover and to evaluate the impact of packs on wild population and livestock in this anthropized areas. Concerning the diet of the pack hare and birds were found to play an important role in the diet of pups and further investigation to assess the importance of these prey species for pups survival are desirable. The results of the questionnaire highlighted some key factors that influence the attitude of residents, underline the importance of considering small spatial scale attitudinal differences, and urge for an extended human dimension of wolf coexistence research to support local management strategies.