Cry Wolf

A wolf lair has been spotted in Bagni di Lucca Villa. In fact, it’s a giant-sized igloo tent which will hold conferences, children’s activities and exhibitions about that most ambiguous of wild animals, the wolf.

 “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf” one might ask. The fact is that fifty years ago when fifty thousand sheep pastured the slopes of our valley and a major occupation was shepherding there were no wolves. With the decline of agricultural , the move to urban centres, the rise of education facilities and ever more difficult market situations the number of sheep grazing has been reduced to around three thousand. Wolves have literally leapt at the chance to move north up the Apennine ridge and captured long-lost ecological niches around our mountains.

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The purpose of the exhibition is to emphasise the fact that wolves are not necessarily bad, do not necessarily opt for a diet of lamb chops and that sheep and goats themselves can be the victims of other predactors like boars, foxes, eagles and pine martens. We attended the first session which was about the work of the forestry agency in attempting an equable balance between wolves, sheep and humans.

The session did don’t go as straightforward as it might have done. Shepherds intervened to protest that their interests were not adequately looked after. The answer to this was that any damage to sheep flock should be reported to the forestry commission and not to the carabinieri, within 24 hours and that veterinary certificates should be issued to prove that the flocks were subject to destruction by wild predators (and not human ones, I should add).

There is indeed almost half a million euros available to compensate shepherd for the loss of their flocks and the teams empathises that this amount had been paid out in full and more to those who claimed compensation. Clearly feelings are running high over the issue and I was reminded of some situations in the developing world where locals had to be convinced not to capture and eat certain protected species since these animals contributed substantially to the equilibrium of an ecosystem and would help attract tourism..

True, wolves had had a bad press, largely through stories like “little red riding hood” and musical narratives like Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”.  I would like to see these examples, which might have had a certain amount of truth, rewritten and brought up to date. In red riding hood, for example, the wolf could be reformed into a valuable pet protecting the girl’s family against the real predators of our society, the thieves, assassins, rapists, fanatics and money-lenders that increasingly overshadow our anxieties. In the case of Peter, the story could equally be re-written so that the wolf, too, gets released from the zoo and at least wanders in a natural wild-life park-

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But then these dreams may just be as fantastical as those humans whose hair starts growing fast and whose voices change into a howl at the approach of a bright new moon…. The exhibition is on until Sunday.

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