The sun-soaked European peninsula with its long Mediterranean coastline has left one of the most powerful marks on Western civilization. Italy, as the birthplace of pizza and pasta and the epitome of the dolce vita, has been a lusted vacation destination for decades, but it’s not just the cosmopolitan cities and beach resorts that draw tourists from far and wide.
Italy has a varied but distinct landscape: jagged coastline, majestic mountains, rolling hills, and fertile valleys. Amid all this nature you’ll also find some incredible wildlife from rare plants to big predators. Wolves are native to Italy and there’s a considerable population distributed across the country. Some national parks and mountainous regions have higher numbers than others and you might even find them roaming close to the capital.
Our guide explores all you need to know about where to see wolves in Italy and the likelihood of stumbling across one on your next hike or skiing adventure. Let’s get into it.
Wolves in Italy
Wolves have been around in Italy for centuries, but after being hunted and persecuted, they went extinct across much of Western Europe in the early 1900s. They hung on in places like Italy until they were largely extirpated in the Alps in the 1920s and finally from Sicily in the 1940s.
However, the 21st century has seen the return of Italy’s wolf population and they’ve become a vital part of the ecosystems in many of Italy’s national parks.
The Italian wolf, also known as the Apennine wolf, is a subspecies of grey wolf that is native to the peninsula. Inhabiting the Apennine Mountains, the Western Alps, and down to the Apuan Alps, the Italian wolf is fairly distributed in the country and has been undergoing expansion towards the north and east since its return in 2014.
Apennine wolves are usually blended grey or brown in color, but some black specimens have been sighted in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. They’re medium-sized with a body length of around 1-1.4 m. Their coat reddens in the summer and they typically have lighter-colored bellies, sometimes with dark bands along their limbs and tail tips.
Wolves are present throughout the year but they prefer isolated areas away from human settlements. That said, they’re adaptable and resilient, and Italy’s varied climate provides some great conditions for packs to thrive. They dwell in forests, tundra, mountains, and even swamps.
Wolves are most active during late January and February when the breeding season strikes. This is when you’re likely to hear their blood-curdling howls, typically at dawn and dusk. However, their howls are not designed to incite terror into their prey.
Rather, this is a social rally call, used to hail a hunt, express territory, or reunite packs—a howl can help a lost wolf find its way home. Individual wolves can hear and respond to a howl from as far as seven miles away.
There are more than 3,000 individual wolves in Italy today and their numbers are only on the rise. They serve an important role in Italy’s ecosystems and shouldn’t be feared. So where exactly can you see them? Keep reading for everything you need to know.
Abruzzo National Park
Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park is the oldest park in the Apennine Mountains and the second-oldest in all of Italy. It was established in 1923 and has been operating for over 80 years, best known for having some of the greatest biodiversity in the country.
The park has played an important role in preserving some of the world’s rarest species of wild animals including the Abruzzo chamois, Marsican brown bears, and the Italian wolf.
The park covers some 50,000 hectares of karst landscape, towering mountains, meandering rivers, and 25 inhabited towns. Abruzzo is a hidden sanctuary for the diverse wildlife that call it home, and on top of wolves and bears, you’ll find golden eagles, red deer, otter, wild boar, and the white-backed woodpecker taking refuge amid the remote valleys and isolated mountains.
The Italian wolf population is organized into around seven or eight packs today in Abruzzo National Park. However, there is thought to be a total of 2,000 wolves in the region and numbers are steadily increasing thanks to conservation efforts.
Visitors to Abruzzo can embark on the incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience of wolf tracking, following the path and valleys of the park, participating in evening hikes, and exploring the fascinating social life of the wolves that call these lands home.
These experiences, first and foremost, put the preservation of the wolves’ environment at their focus and you won’t be interfering with their habitats in any way. If you’re lucky, you could see up to 10 large mammals on a wildlife tour in Abruzzo.
Apennine wolves are well adapted to the diverse environments of Abruzzo park, ranging from woodland and grasslands to rocky outcrops, snowy mountains, and different altitudes. They’re key to the park and they help keep the stable balance between predator and prey.
Majella National Park
Abruzzo isn’t the only national park in the Apennine Mountains, and it’s not the only one with a wolf population either. Majella National Park is located between the provinces of Chieti, Pescara, and L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy and protects a vast area of high Apennine mountains.
The park centers around Maiella Massif, which is home to more than sixty peaks—half of which exceed 2,000 meters. Mount Amaro is the highest point in the park, and, at an elevation of 2,793 meters, it’s also the second-highest summit in the entire Apennine chain.
The nature of Majella is uncontaminated with rich and diverse flora and fauna across the gently rolling valleys, karst topography, canyons, and icy mountain peaks. The Apennine wolf is a symbol of the Majella National Park, featured in the park’s logo, and the population density is one of the highest in Italy.
There are around 100 wolves distributed in eleven packs across the mountain ranges and protected grasslands of the smaller park. Seventeen of these wolves wear GPS collars for ongoing monitoring.
Majella’s high altitude and inaccessibility mean most of the park’s territories are uninhabited and man-made structures like ski resorts and even roads are far and few compared to other national parks in Italy. Still, this only adds to the wild beauty of Majella National Park and has given the great biodiversity a chance to thrive.
Majella covers nearly 100 square miles (740 square kilometers). It’s also home to one of the healthiest populations of Apennine chamois across Italy. Chamois are goat-like mammals found in the mountains across Europe with hook-shaped horns that are consistent across male and female species. They also somewhat resemble antelope and are endemic to the Apennines.
Visitors to the park can partake in a special day of guided tours with locals dedicated to the observation of and education about the Apennine chamois.
The Apuan Alps
Located in northwest Tuscany between Lunigiana, Garfagnana, and the Versilia Coast, the Apuan Alps are a mountain range found just a few kilometers from the sea. Between the valleys of the Serchio and Magra rivers, the region also includes marble quarries, medieval villages, caves, and lakes.
Wolves were more common and widespread in the Apuan Alps than anywhere else in Italy until the eighteenth century but they came close to extinction, almost entirely disappearing for a hundred years. However, 2014 saw the return of the incredible species to the Apuan Alps, more specifically, to Seravezza, the town and commune of Lucca located in northern Tuscany. Today, this predator’s population is still on the rise and more stable than ever in this Alpine region.
Wolf populations declined all over Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, but they’ve been naturally expanding since the 1990s and have now reached every Alpine country.
The wild wolves in the Tuscan woods are “like the wind” according to locals—you can’t see them but you might hear them or observe their markings from animal carcasses to the thudding hooves of panicked deer. The exact number of wolves in the Apuan Alps is not known, but their populations are thought to be healthy.
For example, in the Oasi Dynamo alone – a nature reserve affiliated with WWF – there are at least 15 individuals, not including a new litter of cubs born in the summer of 2022.
The Western Alps
The Western Alps include the southeastern portion of France, the entirety of Monaco, southwest Switzerland and, of course, northwest Italy. The Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range in Europe stretching 1,200 km and covering 448 ski resorts and 14,428 kilometers of slopes.
In the Alps, you can find plenty of protected fauna, including Alpine wolves. The natural return of wolves to the Italian Alps began in 1996 when the first cross-border packs were documented between Italy and France. Since then, the trend in Alpine wolves has only been positive and there are thought to be at least 50 stable packs and 300 individual wolves, mostly in the Western Alps.
This area is very important as a connection site between Italy’s Apennine wolf population and the wolves of the Dinaric Alps.
The interaction between wolves and livestock has always been a conflict for humans living in Alpine regions. The return of wolfs to the hilly, anthropized, riverside communes of the Western Alps generates problems with fear, but this can generally be solved with proper information.
Despite the odd attacks across the globe, wolves are not thought to be a dangerous species to humans in Europe, and it would be very rare for one to approach showing no fear. If you come across a wolf acting erratically or aggressively, the animal could be plagued with a behavior-altering disease like rabies.
However, since the reduction of wolves in the 20th century diminished two ancestral reservoirs for rabies, central Europe has been virtually rabies-free and it is unlikely that a wild animal would be infected in Italy.
The Dolomites, also known as the Dolomitic Alps, are another mountain range nestled in northeastern Italy. They extend from the River Adige to the Piave Valley, forming part of the Southern Limestone Alps. The Dolomites are best know for their great winter skiing, mountain climbing, cycling, hiking, and other extreme sports like paragliding and hang gliding.
The Dolomites cover 18 peaks that rise above 3,000 meters and cover more than 140,000 hectares. As well as deer, lynx, foxes, eagles, owls, and otters, you can see brown bears and Alpine wolves.
Of the more than 3,300 wolves in Italy, one-third are thought to be concentrated in the Alps although the exact number in the Dolomites is unknown. At the Spormaggiore wildlife park, near Andalo, you can see many of the large animals that call the Dolomites home close-up in an oasis of semi-natural conditions.
In the wild, the wolves stick to remote woodland and mountainous areas, likely to be inaccessible to humans, but there are wolf-tracking tours to get involved with and a chance that you could spot some of these predators in the wild.
The idea of wolves in Rome might sound like a scary one, but their presence at the fringes of Italy’s bustling capital might be one of the best natural occurrences the city could ask for. Italy’s wolves prefer the isolated mountain ranges and national parks of the Alps and Apennines, but in 2013, researchers found proof of wolves in Castel di Guido Reserve, inside the municipality of Rome. This was their first sighting in Italy in more than a century, and today, they continue to encroach on the city.
While citizens fear the closeness of wolves to human populations, there’s little to worry about and they’re actually much more necessary to the country’s ecosystems than they are a concern. Balancing predators and prey, wolves are thought to be saving Rome from wild boar herds which have overrun the city.
Thousands of boars have appeared on the streets of Rome in the last few years, rummaging through rubbish and harassing citizens. In 2021, a boar gang is said to have surrounded a woman in a supermarket car park forcing her to drop her shopping for them to devour.
The 200-pound animals have wreaked havoc in Rome but it’s not only their aggressive nature and sharp tusks to worry about. Cases of African swine fever have soared in the Italian capital. Although harmless to humans, it creates concerns for the production of Italy’s famed prosciutto ham.
Wolves seem to be the answer for restoring equilibrium in Rome and might prevent Italian governments from having to cull boars. Appearing just a few kilometers from the center of Rome, traces of boar are already appearing in wolf feces in Castel di Guido and the Insugherata nature reserve, evidence that the animals are helping to control the overpopulation of boars.
Castel di Guido is a gem of the Roman countryside and a wildlife oasis for diverse fauna like hares, foxes, badgers, tortoises, boars, and wolves. The wolves have been showing up more and more in photographs captured by hidden cameras here and their welcomed return appears to be a permanent one.
Other places you might spot wolves around Rome and in the Lazio region include Appia Antica Park, the city of Maccarese, Decima Malafede Reserve, and Castelli Romani Park, as well as Bassa Maremma on the Tuscan coast.
Are there wild wolves in Italy?
There are more than 3,000 wolves in the wild in Italy, after conservation efforts encouraged their populations to steadily increase over the last decade. They can be found throughout the mountainous and remote regions of the Western Alps, the Dolomites, the Apennines, and the Apuan Alps. Wolves can even be found on the outskirts of Rome but they pose little threat to humans.
Are wolves aggressive?
Despite popular assumption, wolves are not typically aggressive towards humans and their aggression is much less common than that of other large animals like bears, moose, boars, and even cattle. Wolves do attack humans on occasion, but no wolf attack has ever been recorded in Italy. Wolves will avoid human settlements if they can and are generally afraid of people.
Are there bears in Italy?
Wolves aren’t the only impressive predator to call Italy home, the Central Apennines is home to the only population of rare Marsican brown bears known in the world today, however, there are just 50-60 individuals living in the wild here. They inhabit the beach and oak forests of Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park that follow the Apennines down the Italian peninsula.
You are very unlikely to see a bear in the wild in Italy and their presence also depends on the season. Still, there are bear-tracking experiences that you can book in Abruzzo if you want the chance to learn about the social behaviors of Italy’s last remaining Marsican brown bears.