The wild cat, the last great predator of Etna. Sergio Mangiameli interviews Stefano Anile
Stefano Anile is light and elusive, like wildlife, which studies and loves. But generous, as is natural. We met him on the wire of his work departure for the States, Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, about 'how wildly are we put on Etna?'
'Recently, under the guidance of prof. Mario Lo Valvo of the Applied Zoology laboratory of the Department of Biological, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technologies, of the University of Palermo, we delivered to the Etna Park the final report of the investigation and monitoring for the conservation of the Sicilian rock part of the wild rabbit and wild cat in the area of the Etna Park.
The latter fascinates me particularly for one reason above all: it cannot be domesticated. The wild cat remains such, unlike the fox, which not only tolerates the man, but approaches the houses and manages to take food from his hands. The wild cat is able to elude our view a few meters away and in perfect silence. But he is there. And if we leave him a bite, he rejects it because he smells the man.
In forty years I go to Etna, I've seen it twice alone, and I consider myself lucky. The first, in an original wood of medium altitude (I don't reveal the place deliberately), at the end of a summer day: there were three of them, mother and two children, who ran down from a centenary chestnut tree. The second, at night on a low wall in another place at an altitude of 1600 m; in passing, I felt - not heard - something, I turned and saw it: magnificent, sitting like Alice's Stregatto: a marvel.
This presence comforts me and gives me energy, for the same principle that I read in the famous 'With the wolves', the book written by Jim and Jamie Dutcher in two hands on the first long life experience together with a pack of North American wolves: 'Knowing of his presence somewhere up there in the mountains keeps the hope of an original preserved world, to which we all belong'. Roots of life, that is. And I assure you that running in a forest where the wild cat lives, gives a vital charge that is a blow. We do not return home as before. Knowing that up here, in the woods of Etna, a few kilometers and minutes from our busy centers, there is living nature, authentic and silent, is a priceless treasure. For this reason, I have not been able to refrain from asking a few questions to Stefano Anile, with firm bowls, driven also by the fact that several years ago the specialized periodical Oasis also reported the Etna area as the best Italian territory, due to population density.
The wild cat on Etna - Photo by Stefano Anile
D: 'Is Etna still the country of Bengodi, for the wild cat?'
R: 'It is the best place in Sicily and among the best in Italy, but it is in decline due to threats due to the alteration and fragmentation of habitats, also due to forest fires. That is: expansion of the road network in and around the highly natural areas, operated without the appropriate mitigation measures for wildlife. For example, the SS120 near Maletto, is a place where deaths from automotive impact are a reality, and where the mitigation measures would consist of special warning signs, foreseen by the highway code, which already exist in other Italian protected areas and in the world '.
D: 'There are also other causes, to read the report presented to the Park'.
R: “Yes, the hybridization with the domestic cat, linked to the increased human presence, which would lead to an irreversible dilution of the genetic heritage; the widespread stray, because the surviving abandoned dogs make a pack and grow wild, reproducing the predatory organized instinct of the wolf and thus placing itself at the first place of the Etnean predatory scale, dispossessing our wild cat; the widespread pasture, especially in the northern slope, where we suspect the abandonment of the territory by the local wild cat population, due to the disappearance of the micro-mammals, its natural prey, to which is also added a strong reduction of wild rabbits on all the Sicilian territory '.
I consider that it is not an easy job that the Park can do on its own. On the stray, we need the important part of the Municipalities of the Park (there are Municipalities of the high Etna band that count hundreds of stray dogs), of the neighboring ones, and also of the Forest Service with its precious task of vigilance, still in the absence of the rangers. Here is a glimpse of the territorial situation of Etna, for the protected area. That is, its administrative and decision-making fragmentation for the management of its entire natural heritage, with the Park left intentionally to die, without means, or sufficient men, for the purpose with which it was institutionalized in 1987. The wild cat belongs to the same face as the medal,
D: 'What brings this study back?'
R: “The indications and intervention suggestions for the Park, and the recent establishment of a European consortium for the conservation of wild cats (EUROWILDCAT; www.eurowildcat.org) in which universities, museums, parks and independent researchers participate, like myself same, from all over Europe has laid the foundations to be able to promote and coordinate the conservation of this species, both locally and in Europe '.
D: 'Why is the protection of the wild cat important?'
R: 'Because it is the top-predator of Etna. By protecting it at its best, the whole ecosystem of Etna would benefit from it, allowing to preserve this territory, and with it, in cascade, all the fauna that survives the slopes of the highest volcano in Europe, today also a UNESCO natural heritage site. 'humanity'.
I greet Stefano Anile, also a brain fleeing from this Italy that does not know how to leave, leaving worrying, unacceptable lack of action precisely in the natural territory sector, where there would be immediate work and for a whole generation, only to take care of it.