After their eradication in the Alps in the first half of the 20th Century, wolves are returning again, following recent decades of protection measures and improved ecological conditions in Western Europe. Currently, the natural expansion of wolves in the Alps presents wildlife managers with the challenge of minimising conflict between wolves and human activities. Management must consider high human densities and high levels of habitat fragmentation in certain areas. The lack of any form of coordinated management of the Alpine region represents a major challenge. Conservation measures are also needed to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf population.
The objective of the project was to implement and coordinate trans-boundary wolf conservation actions in the Alps (Italy and Slovenia), spanning westwards and eastwards, to enhance the re-colonisation process. The project aimed to: Decrease poisoning and poaching episodes and the wolfs negative impact on livestock Increase knowledge and acceptance of wolf conservation issues amongst hunters, shepherds, local communities, students and citizens Control the loss of reproductive sites and detect and control wolf-dog hybridisation; and Achieve long-term wolf genetic viability.
The WolfAlps project overcame population fragmentation of the Alpine wolf population, uniting the Apennine and Dinaric populations which had been separated for at least 2 centuries. This has great strategic importance to the conservation of the species. In doing so the project has become the scientific reference point for the status of the Alpine wolf population in Italy and Slovenia. During the project period, wolf packs increased from 23 to 46 (over an area which expanded from 13 600km2 to 15 600km2). The first reproductive pair was registered in 2013, combining a male from Slovenia with a female from Italy. The project defined new common, standardised methodologies and criteria to enable efficient wolf monitoring and to manage wolf-human conflicts in the Alps. Standards were effectively applied across different, previously disconnected administrative authorities in Italy and Slovenia. This is a first for wolf conservation. Around 512 project actors, organised into 46 bodies throughout the Italian and Slovenian Alps, collected a huge amount of comparable data. They used non-invasive methods including snow-tracking, wolf-howling, genetic analyses of biological samples and camera traps. As well as contributing to developing the Italian Wolf National Action Plan, the project resulted in species-specific and 11 site-specific conservation measures being developed and approved in the Piedmont region. These come with structured obligations, prohibitions and good practices and remain in force beyond the end of the project. Further afield, the guidelines for Alpine wolf population management and conservation produced by the project are applicable at international level. The project contributed to making farmers more aware about how important it is to use adequate protection measures to protect livestock against wolf attacks. This is especially needed in new recolonised areas. On the ground, 5 anti-poaching teams comprising 104 people from the Carabinieri, provincial police and protected areas made almost 1 000 interventions to tackle poisoning and poachers. Another 2 anti-poisoning teams with 8 dogs were deployed, responding to 117 urgent calls and intervening in another 62 cases. To help farmers protect their livestock in areas where wolves were introduced, the project team built 135 electric fences and gave livestock guardian dogs to 129 shepherds. Other prevention strategies were employed to protect cattle, sheep and goat flocks. The project proposed changes to the Rural Development Plans of the Veneto and Lombardia regions 2014-2020. Within these proposals, specific prevention measures were requested. If these changes are approved, a call will be published for regions to contribute 200,000 to cover purchase of damage prevention equipment.The project showed that conservation activities especially for large carnivores can be most successful when accompanied by an expert communication strategy. To this end, more than 17 000 people were involved in an extensive campaign to build acceptance of wolves in the Alps. Among the programmes run were: A new coordinated Alpine Wolf Press Office which collected and analysed a press review about the wolf and the project of around 1 300 items (including articles and videos) and delivered more than 120 press releases. It became a reference for fact-checking and debunking misinformation related to the wolf; A special Crisis Unit was organised to deal with real-time special emergency cases. This was activated twice; A project website with 2 965 average monthly users and a Facebook page with more than 7 000 followers and an average monthly coverage of 29 000 people; Creative activities including a photo contest reaching 174 358 people, 16 theatre performances, a contemporary art exhibition, publications and a travelling exhibition seen by around 43 700 people all over the Alps; and Education programmes for teachers, pupils and schools including an original childrens book sold in Italian bookshops after the end of the project, documentaries, kits and brochures, two drawing competitions for children, park visits by over 80 schools, school exchanges, training for 440 teachers, 323 experts conferences in schools for a total of about 8 000 schoolchildren, and training days for teachers and trainers. 32 meetings, workshops and platforms were organised with farmers, 29 with hunters, in adddition to the three thematic conferences and 12 platform meetings organised with stakeholders. All the final events received high praise from the public for the quality of the content presented. The pre-conference was attended by 2 800 people and the main conference by 1 042 participants (684 the first day, 358 the second day). The LCIE meeting had 43 participants making it the most attended LCIE meeting ever. Alongside conservation, communication and cultural successes, WolfAlps brought strong economic benefits. 700 people worked directly for the project, with another 35 people employed as experts. Local suppliers were used to install prevention equipment such as electric fencing, and local wolf-eco tourism activities were established, including a new trade mark to promote cheeses produced by 6 different cheese factories and farmers. 40 guided ecotourism events involving around 600 people, 26 snow tracking hikes, and 10 ecotourism events in Slovenia all contributed to local communities in the project areas. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).