Watch out for the wolf

The wolf in Cortina d’Ampezzo and its surroundings

The fear is not so difficult to understand. After all, haven’t we all been scared of the wolf as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What scares us today is exactly the same thing that scared us yesterday. This complex of fear is rooted in every individual. (Alfred Hitchcock)

Recently, a viral video prompted me to write a few lines about the wolf, whose presence in the Dolomites and the Cortina area is now confirmed. But before discussing the wolf, let me provide a brief introduction to the aforementioned footage.

What is seen in the video occurred a few evenings ago on the road descending from Passo Tre Croci to Auronzo. Behind the wheel of his SUV, a farmer is heading home when he encounters a pack of four wolves. Snow walls on both sides of the road prevent the animals from disappearing into the woods, forcing them to seek an escape route by running along the highway.

At that point, the driver starts tailing the poor creatures, undoubtedly frightened by the pursuing vehicle. I don’t endorse the driver’s behavior, although it must be noted that last summer, two calves from his farm were killed by a wolf. I don’t justify it, but I try to understand.

The video is an interesting document that I wanted to share; you can watch it at the end of this page. I chose to replace the original audio – the driver’s comments – with a cheerful song.

And now, let’s talk a bit about the wolf!

Is the wolf dangerous to humans?

The question arises naturally when we learn about the presence of this predator in our areas. I, for one, who spend a significant amount of my time outdoors for both work and passion, have pondered this question.
I am not an expert in the field, so I sought to educate myself, not only online but also by consulting experts in this field. Here is what I have learned:

Is the wolf dangerous to humans?

NO, the wolf is an intelligent animal that does not see humans as potential prey, but rather as a threat to be avoided as quickly as possible. In the case of Cortina, which boasts a great abundance of natural prey, it is not in the wolf’s strategy as an intelligent predator to attack difficult and potentially dangerous targets like humans. The animal reacts violently only when provoked, defending itself with small bites to extremities.
However, there are two situations that make the wolf a threat:
1. Rabies: A wolf infected with rabies becomes truly aggressive and dangerous. If infected, the animal is constantly in a “rage” state and attacks its victim multiple times.
2. Presence of a dog: If you are walking with your dog, the wolf may be nervous, seeing the dog as an intruder in its territory.
Since 2002, there have been only two cases of people killed by predatory attacks, both in remote and uninhabited areas of North America (areas where animals have never been in contact with humans). Remember, though, that the wolf is a wild animal, so it’s better not to get too close.

How should I behave if I encounter a wolf?

It is unlikely, though not impossible, to come face to face with a predator. Thanks to its highly developed hearing and sense of smell, the wolf will sense your presence and move away before you can see it. In the case of a close encounter, you can make noise by shouting and raising your arms to appear larger.

Are there wolves in Cortina d’Ampezzo?

YES. Certainly, a pack of wolves has settled in these parts, but where they have their base has not yet been discovered. In one night, a wolf can travel over 50 km, and by occupying a territory of about 240 km², it cannot be said whether it is stable in Valbona, near Mondeval, or in the Falzarego area.
While there have been cases of livestock killed by predators here, it is equally true that there is no certainty that these were wolves. Often, attacks on livestock are attributed to groups of stray dogs, whose presence is also known in Cortina (Col Tondo area). This is not an excuse to protect the wolf but a fact.

How large is a wolf pack?

In the Alps, a pack typically consists of 4-7 wolves. Larger packs of around 20 individuals are present in large American parks.

Is it true that wolves are mainly active at night?

YES. Usually, wolves move from sunset to sunrise, a period during which their prey also moves to feed. Furthermore, during the night, the presence of humans, considered a danger by the wolf, is limited.
In less populated areas, it is more common for wolves to move during the day.

The number of wolves can increase uncontrollably?

NO. In the Alps, a pack occupies approximately 240 km². The pack establishes and maintains its territory exclusively, not allowing foreign wolves to enter. At the local level, there is always only one pack, consisting of a stable number of individuals that cannot grow.
Once a pack has settled in a territory, it occupies it with its family unit, composed of parents and pups born in May. Upon reaching the first or second year of age, young wolves leave their place of origin in search of new territories.

The return of the legendary predator to our regions has sparked numerous debates, with those in favor and those against the wolf. Indeed, the wolf has proven to be a threat to farmers who, through hard work, still maintain pastoralism and agriculture in the mountains. Last summer, in Trentino and Veneto, there were several wolf attacks on sheep, calves, donkeys, and other domestic animals. Alpine pastures and the management of mountain huts are crucial for economic, landscape, and tourist development and need to be protected.

The wolf, however, is not only a threat, and its return helps us understand that nature still thrives in the Dolomites. The wolf is the largest predator in the Alpine ecosystem, hunting more than the lynx and the bear.

It thus acts as a ‘regulator’ on the number of ungulates and other prey that can sometimes grow numerically in an exaggerated manner.

Furthermore, its presence could be leveraged in the tourism sector. Such a significant animal at the top of the food chain could become a major attraction, as demonstrated by the Mercantour National Park in the French Alps.

Indeed, coexistence between humans and wolves will be a real challenge, and I hope that our species can make wise and intelligent choices. To conclude, if you want to learn more about the feared predator, you can find a dedicated page on wolves in the “Fauna” section.

We all know the version of Little Red Riding Hood, but no one knows that of the wolf. Perhaps it would speak to us of loneliness and pride, of fabulous moons and woods erased by men.
(Fabrizio Caramagna)

Enrico Maioni Mountain Guide Dolomiti

Enrico Maioni

Certified Mountain Guide, with a wide know-how of the Dolomiti.
I was born in the heart of the Dolomites, where I live and work to this day.
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