A four-year investigation by the Public Prosecutor of Modena has uncovered an illegal trade in wolf hybrids.
To mitigate bone and hip problems in the breed, and create a more ‘wolf-like’ appearance to impress dog show judges, unscrupulous breeders have been crossing Czechoslovakian wolfdogs with wild wolves. But if wolfdogs are descended from a German shepherd and a Carpathian wolf, where is the problem?
To begin with, breeding domesticated and wild animals is now against the law in Italy, and since wolves are a protected species, animals up to fourth-generation cannot be kept in captivity without proper authorisation from CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In addition, Czechoslovakian wolf-dogs are already a high-maintenance breed requiring plenty of space and exercise. As their popularity has grown, some owners have discovered that they are more than they can manage, and abandon them. A specimen crossed with a ‘pure’ wolf would pose an even bigger problem.
These wolf-dogs may then mix with wolves again, exacerbating the problem of hybridisation in the wild. As mentioned in Wolf Print #59, hybridisation can effectively ‘breed out’ an endangered species, and this is especially relevant because Montana et al’s Mammalian Biology study (2017) suggests that the Italian wolf may be a distinct subspecies in and of itself, Canis lupus italicus.
The first illegal hybrid was discovered in Modena in 2013, but over the next few years the investigation, or Ave Lupo (Hail the Wolf) found that up to54 Italian provinces were implicated. Sold for as much as €5,000 each, the hybrids were traced to wolf pups smuggled into Italy from the Carpathian mountains, Scandinavia and even North America. At the time of writing, over 200 illegal specimens have been discovered.
So far, two breeders have been convicted of illegally importing a protected species, issuing false pedigrees and fraud, and seven others are currently under investigation. However, some of them have argued that Ave Lupo’s research is baseless or linked to commercial rivalry.
Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti has called for tighter controls, and a ‘Wolf Conservation Plan’ – involving both wolf culling and protection against hybridisation – was confirmed in February.
“Lupi selvaggi o cani cecoslovacchi? L’inchiesta agita gli allevatori.” 2017. Quotidiano.net. http://www.quotidiano.net/animali/animali-lupi-inchiesta-1.2819127
Montana. L. et al. 2017. “A new mitochondrial haplotype confirms the distinctiveness of the Italian wolf (canis lupus) population.” Mammalian Biology, 84: 30-34.
Signorile, L. 2017. “I Lupi italiani sono unici nel mondo. Ma si possono abbattere.” National Geografica Italia. http://www.nationalgeographic.it/natura/animali/2017/01/31/news/lupi_piano_gestione_caccia_abbattimenti-3403733/
Squires, N. 2017. “Italy cracks down on illegal sale of dangerous wolf cross-breeds after four-year investigation.” Telegraph.co.uk http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/16/italy-cracks-illegal-sale-dangerous-wolf-cross-breeds-four-year/