North East – The precious sighting, the second recorded in the province of Trento and the first in eastern Trentino, is part of a systematic program of study and monitoring of the fauna that MUSE – Trento Science Museum and the University of Florence carry out in collaboration with the Paneveggio Pale di San Martino Natural Park and the Wildlife Service of the Autonomous Province of Trento.
At the foot of the Pale di San Martino, in Primiero, the phototrappole del MUSE have immortalized a rare and elusive species, never reported before in eastern Trentino. This is the European wild cat (Puma), a small carnivore specialized in catching rodents, similar in appearance to that of a large domestic tabby cat.
Some morphological characteristics, however, distinguish it from its domestic cousin, and a careful analysis of the coat performed by zoologists of the MUSE andUniversity of Florence, with the help of external experts, places the specimen photographed in Primiero with high probability in the wild species. In particular, are eloquent characteristics the coda clavata, with black tip and closed and detached rings, and the clear dorsal line that ends at the junction of the tail, with peculiar streaks at the level of the nape and shoulders.
“It is a solitary, territorial and nocturnal species with a predilection for broad-leaved forest environments – explains Marco Salvatori, PhD student at MUSE and the University of Florence – this mysterious and fascinating species suffered in the past, like many other carnivores, a cruel persecution because it was considered a pest by farmers: in 1939 the Royal Decree No. 1016 promoted its killing with leghold traps, traps and poisoned morsels. Since the mid-seventies the legal protection granted him has allowed a demographic recovery. However, the species has a very restricted distribution in the Alps, being present with certainty only in the Friulian and Belluno sector, while it is steadily widespread along the Apennine chain, in Sicily, and in Sardinia. Our photographic discovery is therefore important, especially for the context of the Alps, because it testifies to a possible expansion towards the west of the nucleus present in northern Veneto.”.
Notified of the discovery, Luigi Boitani, one of the leading experts on large carnivores in Italy and member of the Scientific Committee of MUSE, underlined how “i large and medium-sized predators, from fox to bear, are wrongly considered the spearheads of animal biodiversity, as if they were indicators of excellence in habitat quality. In reality, almost all (with some exceptions, such as the lynx) are opportunistic, generalistic and in any case very adaptable animals and even the wild cat is very accommodating in its food and environmental needs. Their return therefore means that the era of persecutions is over in the Alps and the space that man is granting to these species, the tolerance of their presence, the acceptance of a possible coexistence have increased. And this is great news ”.
The discovery stems from a collaboration between MUSE, the Department of Biology of the University of Florence and the research sector of the Paneveggio Pale di San Martino Natural Park. which, in the Park area, have started a scientific project for monitoring mammals using photo-traps since 2020.
“The photo-trapping technique – he claims Francesco Rovero, professor at the University of Florence and scientific coordinator of the project – once again confirms itself as an exceptional tool for the study of wildlife. Included in Annex 4 of the Habitats Directive of the European Union, the wild cat is a priority species for conservation and protection, as it suffers the impact of the fragmentation of forest habitats caused by roads and other infrastructures, and by automobile investments. A strong threat to the species is also constituted by hybridization with the domestic cat, which can pollute its genetic heritage and lead to the presence of non-adaptive traits, such as anomalous coat colors and greater susceptibility to diseases.”.
This new presence, conclude the experts from MUSE and the University of Florence, is good news for the ecosystems of Trentino and the Alps in general, a new piece of biodiversity that fits into the complex network of interrelationships of Alpine organisms, in an environment that however it remains heavily used by man. In the future, it will therefore be important to carefully monitor the situation to ascertain the presence of a stable population and check its state of health.