di Stefania Falcon
On the 2nd of February, the environmental minister, Mr Galletti, proposed the culling of 5% of the wolf population in Italy. This motion was rejected by the Italian region’s Presidents and strongly criticized by the public, nationally and internationally. In fact, the Italian wolf has been under protection for 46 years and there is currently insufficient data on the wolf population, to propose any aggressive managing strategy. An international petition, demanding EU to sanction Italy for the unscientific management of a vulnerable species, collected 160.000 signatures in only a few days.
Despite the public outcry, Mr Galletti will present, on the 23rd of February, a new plan, this time proposing the culling, for scientific purpose, of the Italian wolf hybrid,which apparently is present among the wolf population.
But what exactly is a wolf hybrid? In our interview, Dumbleton Mokoena, director of Save Our Wolf International, answers our questions:
The hybrids are nothing less than wolves; they are born in the wild and grow inside their pack, the same way pure wolves do. They look like wolves and behave as such. The only problem is their DNA, which shows they are somehow mixed with the dog genes. If an exemplar is 99% wolf and 1%dog, that’s a hybrid. But wolves are not racists, they don’t care about the DNA. The pack follows precise behaviours which are not related in any way to the authenticity of the breed. Encounters between wolves and dogs have always existed in history. What worries us is the lack of data: Italians don’t know how many wolves are across the country so the number of hybrids is unknown, too. Also, it is impossible to distinguish a wolf from a hybrid without the DNA test so we fear the human error and the indiscriminate killing, if the point III.7 of the plan (Exceptions and departure from the ban of removing wolves from habitat -) will pass.
What we understand is that Italy will remove an unidentified number of hybrids from their packs to undertake the genetic test.
“Dismembering packs” continues Mokoena, “will lead the survivor exemplars towards aggressive behaviours. Once on their own, wolves target easy prey, as cattle. This is not the best plan to manage the conflict farm livestock/predator. The consequence will be the increase in poaching.”
There is plenty of international studies on the management of livestock predation. For example, in Predator control should not be a shot in the dark, Treves, Wisconsin University, it is clearly stated: “The culling of a big predator, as the wolf, will not reduce the predation on cattle. On the other hand, in 80% of our cases, predation has decreased when alternative non-lethal methods have been applied. We recommend the use of electric fences, sheepdogs, flash lights and acoustic signals, to reduce livestock loss.”
Hybrids will not only be culled. In some cases they will be permanently transferred into special centres where they will be used for the scientific research. Some of these facilities are already operative in the country. The lack of legislation to protect these unfortunate exemplars allows these centres to operate in the most lucrative way.
What should we do, then? “That’s simple,” Mokoena says. “You should focus on the implementation of non-lethal deterrents, in order to protect farm livestock from predation. To contain hybrids, you should promote the sterilization of errant dogs on the Italian territory, including stray dogs, guard and hunting dogs because they are left roaming for a long time. Most important, you should leave wolves and wolf hybrids alone. Pure breed and borders are human concepts and, as we can see, they have never meant anything positive, haven’t they?