Home Newsletter 2011 The Monitoring of Large Carnivores in the Monti Sibillini National Park

by Paolo Salvi

One of the main actions of the LIFE EX-TRA project in the Monti Sibillini National Park is the monitoring of large carnivores. This activity concerns two priority species which are present in the protected area and are considered to be of interest to the European Community: The wolf and the Marsican Brown Bear. The wolf has always been present in the Sibillini Mountains and its stable presence was confirmed beginning in the early 1980s. The Park has been carrying out regular monitoring of the species since 2002 and this has helped to establish that there has been a slight increase in the population present in the area during the last 9 years. The presence of the Marsican Brown Bear on the Sibillini Mountains should, instead, be considered occasional and correlated to the dispersion of young males coming from the distributional area of Lazio and Abruzzo.

The Park has been controlling the reproductive activity of the wolf family groups by means of the induced wolf howling technique since 2009. An estimate of the individuals present and, therefore, of the density of the species, was obtained, instead, by means of snow tracking.
3 reproductive groups of wolves were identified during the first year of the project. In 2010 the number of groups reproducing in the Park territory increased to 5. This number was also confirmed in 2011. Therefore, for the time being, there is a positive trend with the wolf population increasing from the 23 individuals estimated in 2009 to the 35 individuals estimated in 2011.

An innovative monitoring technique, which is being used in the LIFE EXTRA project activities, is the use of the so-called camera traps. These cameras, when placed in the areas where the density of the species being monitored is higher, are able to take a photo and record a video of the animal when it passes. This technique not only gives an indication of the composition of the pack of wolves but also confirms their state of health with greater certainty.

Thanks to the LIFE project, 14 camera trapping sites have been activated in the Park since 2009. These have given the possibility to confirm the presence of the reproductive groups located with wolf-howling as well as the opportunity to monitor the litters.

The same technique has been used to keep track of the movements of the only Marsican Brown Bear whose presence has been confirmed on the Sibillini Mountains since 2006. The latest video recorded dates back to April 2010 and shows Ulisse, which is the name given to the bear by the Park technicians, along a trail which was already visited in the past by the plantigrade.

Up to now, despite the setting up of various fur traps, no other bear has been discovered in the Park. These fur traps preserve traces of the bear – precisely the fur -, permit the establishing of genotype and enable to distinguish different individuals which come to the same area.

The latest signs of the presence of Ulisse date back to May 2010. A predation, which took place in July of the same year is the latest proof of Ulisse’s stay in the Park. In October the bear was more than 130 kilometres from the Park boundaries or, more precisely, it was on the Duchessa Mountains. Its passing was confirmed thanks to the genetic analysis of a sample of faeces found in the wildlife reserve in Lazio.

Thanks to the monitoring activity of the LIFE project and the previous research carried out on the wolf, today. the Park has a much clearer picture regarding the presence and distribution of the carnivores in the territory administered.

In particular, as far as the wolf is concerned, genetic research was also conducted in a project co-financed by the Region of Marche in 2011. This research confirmed the estimate in numbers obtained from the naturalistic monitoring carried out with the LIFE EXTRA project and confirmed the presence of reproductive groups of wolves outside of the Park boundaries as well. One important aspect regards, in particular, the presence of wolves, even in packs, in hilly areas which were considered to be difficult to colonize by this species. The result of this research is, therefore, very useful even for the pursuit of the aims of the LIFE project, as it could furnish useful information regarding the mitigation of conflicts outside the protected area.