Two years ago in February 2021, we published an article entitled ‘Lake Como’s Bears, Wolves and Werewolves’. This reported on the sightings of bears and wolves at the northern end of the lake, and the presence of some inexplicable tracks that some had fancifully speculated as those of a werewolf. Leaving werewolves (no further sightings) and bears aside for now, it seems appropriate to report on the current status of our wolves and identify if the extraordinary phenomenon of the Covid lock-down has had any impact on their distribution. In brief we are now confident in claiming that Lake Como hosts at least one well-established wild wolf-pack. There may also be a previously unrecorded pack inhabiting the Valsolda to the north of Porlezza. In addition, there have been some occasional sightings of lone wolves elsewhere in the province.
Where are our wolves?
Firstly we must admit that the entire Lombardy region hosts considerably fewer wolves along its Alpine borders than those in the neighbouring regions of Piedmont, Liguria, Trento and Emilio Romagna. The chart issued below by the Life Wolf Alps project clearly shows this.
The following chart shows the four established wolf packs in Lombardy.
The survey published in February 2021 identified two individual wolves in the pack based in the Province of Sondrio around Aprica and Teglio. The largest pack of seven wolves is based in the Province of Brescia around Ponte Legno. Right in the south of the region there were three wolves in the pack based around Verretto in the Province of Pavia. Finally, our pack based around the north west end of the lake (Alto Lario) consisted of three individuals.
A sighting of a wolf, or any evidence of their presence still receives immediate interest in the local media. From newspaper reports we can establish more precise locations for the pack in the Alto Lago. All the sightings marked below were in remote mountainous areas inland from the lake apart from the fourth. The Number 4 marks the spot where a couple of motorists saw three wolves crossing the state highway 36 – the main valley road leading to Chiavenna. The sighting of the three wolves was reported in Il Giorno di Lecco on 6th March 2022 (https://www.ilgiorno.it/lecco/cronaca/lupi-statale-36-1.7435486) and included film of the wolves caught on camera by one of the motorists. The newspaper since reported this brief video had gone ‘viral’.
The first location (1) is the Valle Albano, the exact location where the presence of wolves was originally reported in February 2021. All the sightings in the Alto Lario cluster are of the same pack which consists of three adults as reported by the Life Wolf Alps project. However the sighting number 2 in the mountains around Vercana talks of a pack of four adults. The sighting was reported in QuiComo on 13th March 2022 and on 7th March in La Provincia.
The article in La Provincia states how this is the same pack seen in locations 5 (Albonico) and 6 (Monte Berlinghera in the Comune of Samolaco). In December 2022 a sheep’s carcass was found in location 3 showing the typical signs of being torn apart by a wolf. Other sheep have also gone missing in the same area.
The Valsolda runs north from the shores of Lake Lugano to the west of Porlezza running close to the Swiss border and the Val Colla. What may be a previously unknown pack was identified there (Number 7 on the map above) and reported in La Provincia on the 13th September 2022. The Swiss UCP (Ufficio della Caccia e della Pesca) confirmed the presence of a pack consisting of two adult wolves and three cubs. The pack had been caught on hidden mini-cameras placed in the Val Colla within a short distance of the Italian border.
The effect of lock-down
Whilst all the sightings mentioned previously were in remote areas, two other sightings have been made to the south of our region. One of these was in Montevecchia, a park in Brianza between Monza and Lecco. The other was near to Tradate at the southern end of the Province of Como in the Parco Regionale della Pineta di Appiano Gentile e Tradate. The suggestion is that the wolf seen in Montevecchia originated from the Alto Lario pack. However, to reach either Tradate or Montevecchia, the wolves would have had to traverse built up and well populated areas. The assumption is that lock-down gave these animals the opportunity to roam more widely than they would normally do, just as it did also for wild boar and deer. It is unlikely that these one-off sightings will result in the establishment of new packs now that lock-down restrictions have been lifted.
Man and Wolf
The relationship between man and wolf has always been problematic and the increased number of wolves in our area risks reigniting this time-honoured conflict. The main concern is for the safety of the flocks of sheep kept on the alpine pastures but there is also a natural worry that a wolf may attack a human. The Life Wolf Alps project runs a series of courses and advice to farmers on how to safeguard their alpine flocks. They also publish advice to the general public on how to avoid the danger of a wolf attack.
Their recommendations are the following:
- If you come across a wolf, keep calm, stop and assess the situation. If the wolf becomes aware of your presence, it would normally retreat or run away.
- If instead the wolf does not run away immediately, stay calm and make yourself known using a decisive tone whilst slowly retreating.
- Do not under any circumstances go towards the wolf even to get a photo.
- Never follow a wolf
- Stay clear of the wolf’s lair
- Never under any circumstances give food to a wolf. Ensure you do not leave any food behind after a barbecue, picnic or when camping.
- If with a dog, the wolf might consider it as intruding on its territory or think of it as potential prey. Keep an eye on your dog or keep it on a lead.
- Report to the authorities any wolves that have displayed unusual behaviour or appear particularly bold.
- Report any animal that has been caught by what may have been a wolf.
The wolf packs in the Valsolda and in the Alto Lario live in remote locations but they are within areas often visited by trekkers and mountain bikers. There are two well established trekking routes in the Alto Lario that will take you into wolf territory, the Berlinghera to Alpe Gigiai or the Monti di Vercana that goes from Vercana to Trezzone before descending to the lakefront at Gera Lario. So it is possible you might come across a wolf. If so, please report any sightings to the Life WolfAlps project via this link: https://www.lifewolfalps.eu/en/report-a-sighting/