Skip to main content


Log in

One, no one, or one hundred thousand: how many wolves are there currently in Italy?

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Mammal Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Large carnivores in Italy and other European countries are protected by law to ensure their long-term conservation. Estimates of abundance and demographic trends of their populations are crucial for implementing effective conservation and management strategies. However, it is challenging to obtain basic demographic parameters for elusive species such as the wolf (Canis lupus). Monitoring wolf populations by standard field methods or non-invasive genetic approaches requires huge human efforts and may be exceedingly expensive on a nation-wide scale. Aiming to obtain a first approximate estimate of wolf distribution and abundance in Italy, we developed a systematic review procedure to analyze published data obtained from a variety of sources. We deduced relevant information on wolf presence and numbers from 20 peer-reviewed studies or official reports, and from 241 Standard Data Forms of Natura 2000 sites in Italy, referring to the period 2009–2013. We estimated the species abundance by combining the number of individuals reported in each study area with the values obtained by multiplying the estimated number of packs for the average pack size. Comparing our estimates with those previously reported, we evaluated the qualitative trend of the population for each of the two management units: Alps and Apennines. Results showed the occurrence of approximately 321 wolf packs in Italy, corresponding to 1269–1800 wolves, possibly still underestimated. The Apennine sub-population seems to be almost the double in size (with ca. 1212–1711 wolves in the period 2009–2013) compared to previous estimates (600–800 wolves between 2006 and 2011). The Alpine sub-population, despite its ongoing eastwards expansion, appears rather stable (with 57–89 wolves). Overall, the current wolf population size and trends seem favorable, although the species is still locally threatened by widespread poaching and accidents. These results represent the first estimate of abundance for the whole Italian wolf population in the last 40 years. Such information can be used to implement sound conservation strategies, especially in critical human-dominated landscapes, where conflicts with human activities and increasing rates of hybridization with free-ranging domestic dogs call for updated management plans.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Antonucci A (2014) Il lupo del Parco Nazionale della Majella. Ufficio Monitoraggio e Gestione Biodiversità, Parco Nazionale della Majella [in Italian]

  • Apollonio M, Mattioli L, Scandura M et al (2004) Wolves in the Casentinesi Forests: insights for wolf conservation in Italy from a protected area with a rich wild prey community. Biol Conserv 120:249–260. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2004.02.021

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Apollonio et al (2013) Monitoraggio del lupo in Regione Toscana, relazione anno 2013 [in Italian]

  • Barea-Azcón JM, Virgós E, Ballesteros-Duperón E et al (2006) Surveying carnivores at large spatial scales: a comparison of four broad-applied methods. Biodivers Conserv 16:1213–1230. doi:10.1007/s10531-006-9114-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bassi E, Willis SG, Passilongo D, Mattioli L, Apollonio M (2015) Predicting the spatial distribution of wolf (Canis lupus) breeding areas in a mountainous region of Central Italy. PLoS ONE 10, e0124698. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124698

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Boitani L (1984) Genetic considerations on wolf conservation in Italy. Bolletino di Zool 51:37–41. doi:10.1080/11250008409439476

    Google Scholar 

  • Boitani L (1992) Wolf research and conservation in Italy. Biol Conserv 61:125–132. doi:10.1016/0006-3207(92)91102-X

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boitani L (2000) Action plan for the conservation of wolves in Europe (Canis lupus). No. 18–113. Council of Europe Press, Strasbourg, France

  • Boitani L (2003) Wolf conservation and recovery. In: Mech LD, Boitani L (eds) Wolves: behavior, ecology, and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 317–340

    Google Scholar 

  • Boitani L, Ciucci P, Raganella-Pelliccioni E (2011) Ex-post compensation payments for wolf predation on livestock in Italy: a tool for conservation? Wildl Res 37:722–730

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowen-Jones E, Entwistle A (2002) Identifying appropriate flagship species: the importance of culture and local contexts. Oryx 36:189–195. doi:10.1017/S0030605302000261

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braschi C, Boitani L (2013) Risultati delle analisi genetiche. Relazione Finale, Azione A3 – Caratterizzazione genetica e morfologica degli ibridi. LIFE10NAT/IT/265 IBRIWOLF. Accessed on 4 April 2015 [in Italian]

  • Caniglia R, Fabbri E, Greco C et al (2010) Forensic DNA against wildlife poaching: identification of a serial wolf killing in Italy. Forensic Sci Int 4:334–338. doi:10.1016/j.fsigen.2009.10.012

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caniglia R, Fabbri E, Cubaynes S et al (2012) An improved procedure to estimate wolf abundance using non-invasive genetic sampling and capture-recapture mixture models. Conserv Genet 13:53–64. doi:10.1007/s10592-011-0266-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caniglia R, Fabbri E, Greco C et al (2013) Black coats in an admixed wolf × dog pack: is melanism an indicator of hybridization in wolves? Eur J Wildl Res 59:543–555. doi:10.1007/s10344-013-0703-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caniglia R, Fabbri E, Galaverni M et al (2014) Noninvasive sampling and genetic variability, pack structure, and dynamics in an expanding wolf population. J Mammal 95:41–59. doi:10.1644/13-MAMM-A-039

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Capitani C, Bertelli I, Varuzza P (2004) A comparative analysis of wolf (Canis lupus) diet in three different Italian ecosystems. Mamm Biol 69:1–10

    Google Scholar 

  • Chapron G, Kaczensky P, Linnell JDC et al (2014) Recovery of large carnivores in Europe’s modern human-dominated landscapes. Science 346:1517–1519. doi:10.1126/science.1257553

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ciucci P, Boitani L (1998) Il Lupo, elementi di biologia, gestione, ricerca. Documenti tecnici 23. Istituto Nazionale per la Fauna Selvatica, Ozzano dell’Emilia, Italy [in Italian]

  • Ciucci P, Boitani L (2004) Progetto per la ricerca e conservazione del lupo (Canis lupus) nel Parco Nazionale del Pollino. Relazione finale delle attività di ricerca (1999–2003). Parco Nazionale del Pollino, Italy [in Italian]

  • Ciucci, Boitani (2009) Conservation of large carnivores in Abruzzo: a research project integrating Species, Habitat and Human Dimension. Annual report 2009

  • Ciucci P, Chapron G, Guberti V (2007) Estimation of mortality parameters from (biased) samples at death: are we getting the basics right in wildlife field studies? A response to Lovari et al. J Zool 273:125–127. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2007.00379.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ciucci P, Reggioni W, Maiorano L, Boitani L (2009) Long-distance dispersal of a rescued wolf from the Northern Apennines to the Western Alps. J Wildl Manag 73:1300–1306. doi:10.2193/2008-510

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Convivere con il lupo: conoscere per preservare (2014) Il sistema dei Parchi nazionali dell’Appennino meridionale per lo sviluppo di misure coordinate di protezione per il lupo. Final report [in Italian]

  • Corsi F, Duprè E, Boitani L (1999) A large‐scale model of wolf distribution in Italy for conservation planning. Conserv Biol 13:150–159

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Creel S, Spong G, Sands JL et al (2003) Population size estimation in Yellowstone wolves with error-prone noninvasive microsatellite genotypes. Mol Ecol 12:2003–2009. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.2003.01868.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Davison AC, Hinkley DV (1997) Bootstrap methods and their application. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ebert C, Knauer F, Storch I, Hohmann U (2010) Individual heterogeneity as a pitfall in population estimates based on non-invasive genetic sampling: a review and recommendations. Wildl Biol 16:225–240. doi:10.2981/09-108

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fabbri E, Miquel C, Lucchini V et al (2007) From the Apennines to the Alps: colonization genetics of the naturally expanding Italian wolf (Canis lupus) population. Mol Ecol 16:1661–1671. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03262.x

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Fabbri E, Caniglia R, Kusak J et al (2014) Genetic structure of expanding wolf (Canis lupus) populations in Italy and Croatia, and the early steps of the recolonization of the Eastern Alps. Mamm Biol 79:138–148. doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2013.10.002

    Google Scholar 

  • Fabrizio M (2010) In: Fabrizio M, D’Amico S, Lucci V (eds). Proceedings of the conference “Bentornato lupo: convegno sul lupo appenninico”. 23 agosto 2008—Pettorano sul Gizio (AQ). I quaderni del Centro Studi per le Reti Ecologiche. Volume 2, 36 pp [in Italian]

  • Falcucci A, Maiorano L, Tempio G, Boitani L, Ciucci P (2013) Modeling the potential distribution for a range-expanding species: wolf recolonization of the Alpine range. Biol Conserv 158:63–72. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2012.08.029

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Genovesi P (2002) Piano d’azione nazionale per la conservazione del Lupo (Canis lupus). Quad Cons Nat 13, Min. Ambiente—INFS, Ozzano dell'Emilia, Italy [in Italian]

  • Genovesi P, Angelini P, Bianchi E, Dupré E, Ercole S, Giacanelli V, Ronchi F, Stoch F (2014). Specie e habitat di interesse comunitario in Italia: distribuzione, stato di conservazione e trend. Serie Rapporti 194/2014, ISPRA [in Italian]

  • Gervasi V, Brøseth H, Gimenez O et al (2014) The risks of learning: confounding detection and demographic trend when using count-based indices for population monitoring. Ecol Evol 4:4637–4648. doi:10.1002/ece3.1258

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Giacchini P (2012) Il lupo nella Regione Marche. Relazione 2012. Regione Marche [in Italian]

  • Glikman JA, Vaske JJ, Bath AJ et al (2012) Residents’ support for wolf and bear conservation: the moderating influence of knowledge. Eur J Wildl Res 58:295–302. doi:10.1007/s10344-011-0579-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Groff et al. [a cura di] (2013) Rapporto Orso 2012 del Servizio Foreste e fauna della Provincia Autonoma di Trento. Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Hayes RD, Harestad AS (2000) Demography of a recovering wolf population in the Yukon. Can J Zool 78:36–48. doi:10.1139/cjz-78-1-36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ISPRA data; Canis database, update 2014

  • Kaczensky P, Chapron G, Von Arx M et al (2013) Status, management and distribution of large carnivores—bear, lynx, wolf & wolverine—in Europe. Report to the EU Commission, 272. Accessed on 2 April 2015

  • Khan KS, Kunz R, Kleijnen J, Antes G (2003) Five steps to conducting a systematic review. J R Soc Med 96:118–121. doi:10.1258/jrsm.96.3.118

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Kohn MH, York EC, Kamradt DA et al (1999) Estimating population size by genotyping faeces. Proc Biol Sci 266:657–663. doi:10.1098/rspb.1999.0686

    Article  PubMed  CAS  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Liberg O, Aronson Å, Sand H et al (2012a) Monitoring of wolves in Scandinavia. Hystrix 23:29–34. doi:10.4404/hystrix-23.1-4670

    Google Scholar 

  • Liberg O, Chapron G, Wabakken P et al (2012b) Shoot, shovel and shut up: cryptic poaching slows restoration of a large carnivore in Europe. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 279:910–915. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1275

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • LIFE 07NAT/IT/000502 – EX-TRA (2013) Final Report. Accessed on 2 April 2015

  • Linnell JDC, Boitani L (2011) Building biological realism into wolf management policy: the development of the population approach in Europe. Hystrix 23:80–91

    Google Scholar 

  • Lovari S, Sforzi A, Scala C, Fico R (2007) Mortality parameters of the wolf in Italy: does the wolf keep himself from the door? J Zool 272:117–124. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00260.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lucchini V, Galov A, Randi E (2004) Evidence of genetic distinction and long-term population decline in wolves (Canis lupus) in the Italian Apennines. Mol Ecol 13:523–536. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.2004.02077.x

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Luikart G, Ryman N, Tallmon DA et al (2010) Estimation of census and effective population sizes: the increasing usefulness of DNA-based approaches. Conserv Genet 11:355–373. doi:10.1007/s10592-010-0050-7

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Marucco F, Avanzinelli E (2011) Stato, distribuzione e dimensione della popolazione di lupo in regione Piemonte. Rapporto Progetto Lupo Regione Piemonte 1999-2010 - Aggiornamento inverno 2010-2011. Regione Piemonte [in Italian]

  • Marucco F, Boitani L (2012) Wolf population monitoring and livestock depredation preventive measures in Europe. Hystrix 23:1–4. doi:10.4404/hystrix-23.1-6364

    Google Scholar 

  • Marucco F, McIntire EJB (2010) Predicting spatio-temporal recolonization of large carnivore populations and livestock depredation risk: wolves in the Italian Alps. J Appl Ecol 47:789–798. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01831.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marucco F, Avanzinelli E, Colombo M (2012) Il Monitoraggio del lupo in regione Piemonte I dati raccolti nell’inverno 2011–2012. Regione Piemonte [in Italian]

  • Marucco F, Boitani L, Pletscher DH, Schwartz MK (2010) Bridging the gaps between non-invasive genetic sampling and population parameter estimation. Eur J Wildl Res 57:1–13. doi:10.1007/s10344-010-0477-7

  • Marucco F, Pletscher DH, Boitani L et al (2009) Wolf survival and population trend using non-invasive capture-recapture techniques in the Western Alps. J Appl Ecol 46:1003–1010. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01696.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mattioli L, Capitani C, Gazzola A, Scandura M, Apollonio M (2011) Prey selection and dietary response by wolves in a high-density multi-species ungulate community. Eur J Wildl Res 57:909–922. doi:10.1007/s10344-011-0503-4

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Mattioli L, Forconi P, Berzi D, Perco F (2014) Wolf population estimate in Italy and monitoring perspectives. Accessed 4 Apr 2015 [in Italian]

  • Meriggi et al. (2011) Monitoraggio delle popolazioni di grandi carnivori nel parco delle Orobie bergamasche. Final report [in Italian]

  • Meriggi et al. (2012) Distribuzione, consistenza ed impatto del lupo in Liguria. Strategia di convivenza e gestione dei conflitti [in Italian]

  • Morini P (2010) In: Fabrizio M, D’Amico S, Lucci V (eds). Proceedings of the conference “Bentornato lupo: convegno sul lupo appenninico”. 23 agosto 2008—Pettorano sul Gizio (AQ). I quaderni del Centro Studi per le Reti Ecologiche. Volume 2, 36 pp [in Italian]

  • Parco Naturale Regionale dei Monti Simbruini (2012) Monitoraggio e gestione del lupo nella Provincia di Roma. Final report [in Italian]

  • Parco Regionale della Lessinia - CFS Veneto (2014) Online report. Accessed on 4 April 2015

  • Randi E (2011) Genetics and conservation of wolves Canis lupus in Europe. Mamm Rev 41:99–111. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2907.2010.00176.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Randi E, Hulva P, Fabbri E et al (2014) Multilocus detection of wolf x dog hybridization in Italy, and guidelines for marker selection. PLoS One 9:e86409. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086409

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Regione Basilicata, Dipartimento Ambiente, Territorio e Politiche della Sostenibilità, Ufficio Tutela della Natura—31 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites. Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Regione Calabria, Dipartimento Politiche dell’Ambiente—59 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites. Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Regione Campania, Assessorato all’Ecologia e alla Tutela dell’Ambiente, AGC 05, Settore Ecologia—23 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites. Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Regione Lazio Direzione Ambiente—36 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites. Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Regione Molise Direzione Generale VI Servizio Conservazione della Natura—20 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites. Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Regione Puglia, Assessorato alla Qualità del Territorio, Settore Ecologia, Ufficio Parchi e Riserve Naturali—3 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Regione Umbria, Direzione Agricoltura e Foreste, servizio XI—69 Standard Data Forms for Natura 2000 sites Accessed on 1 November 2014

  • Ripple WJ, Beschta RL (2012) Trophic cascades in Yellowstone: the first 15 years after wolf reintroduction. Biol Conserv 145:205–213. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ripple WJ, Estes JA, Beschta RL et al (2014) Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores. Science 343:1241484. doi:10.1126/science.1241484

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Scandura M, Iacolina L, Capitani C et al (2011) Fine-scale genetic structure suggests low levels of short-range gene flow in a wolf population of the Italian Apennines. Eur J Wildl Res 57:949–958. doi:10.1007/s10344-011-0509-y

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Servizio scientifico Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso (2013) Relazione annuale di servizio. Piano performance 2013. Servizio sanitario e della ricerca scientifica. PNGP, 2013, Arch. PNGP [in Italian]

  • Solberg K, Bellemain E, Drageset O et al (2006) An evaluation of field and non-invasive genetic methods to estimate brown bear (Ursus arctos) population size. Biol Conserv 128:158–168. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.09.025

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor BL, Dizon AE (1999) First policy then science: why a management unit based solely on genetic criteria cannot work. Mol Ecol 8:S11–S16

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ufficio Caccia e Pesca—Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano (2012) Online document. Accessed on 4 April 2015

  • Wilson GJ, Frantz AC, Pope LC et al (2003) Estimation of badger abundance using faecal DNA typing. J Appl Ecol 40:658–666. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2664.2003.00835.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Woods JG, Paetkau D, Lewis D, McLellan BN, Proctor M, Strobeck C (1999) Genetic tagging of free-ranging black and brown bears. Wildl Soc Bull 27:616–627

    Google Scholar 

  • Zimen E, Boitani L (1975) Number and distribution of wolves in Italy. Z fur Saugetierkunde 40:102–112

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marco Galaverni.

Additional information

Communicated by: Cino Pertoldi

Marco Galaverni and Romolo Caniglia contributed equally to this work.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Online Resource 1

(PDF 125 kb)

Online Resource 2

(PDF 170 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Galaverni, M., Caniglia, R., Fabbri, E. et al. One, no one, or one hundred thousand: how many wolves are there currently in Italy?. Mamm Res 61, 13–24 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: