“Oh my god. It’s a bear, I’m almost sure of it,” whispers wildlife guide Andrea De Angelis, handing me his thermal monocular and pointing to a spot on the adjacent hillside. The morning is ice-cold and dawn still blankets the lumbering Central Apennine Mountains, which are a muted winter-brown. We have set up on a treeless hillside a few miles from a farm; somewhere far away, cows are lowing in the lightening air. I pull off a glove and put the monocular up to my eye, scanning across the valley.
“It’s too big to be a wolf and it doesn’t move like a deer. Definitely bear,” says Andrea confidently. I scan around until I see the ghostly white outline of a large animal loping through the black-and-white frame. Suddenly the animal stops and turns sideways, and there it is: the distinctive outline of a Marsican brown bear.
I’ve come on this wildlife-watching trip in central Italy with Wildlife Adventures, a tour agency that works closely with Rewilding Europe, the NGO working to boost rewilding conservation across the continent. The concept of rewilding is fairly new within nature conservation – it is a non-traditional approach focused on managing nature in such a way that it can begin to take its own course so that natural processes will reshape and repair degraded ecosystems and landscapes.
The idea is that, through rewilding, Earth’s natural rhythms create freshly wild and newly biodiverse habitats on their own. The NGO’s local branch, Rewilding Apennines, is tasked with tracking and populating several endangered and threatened species – animals that once roamed freely across central Italy – and works toward human-wildlife coexistence in these rural communities.
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Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, where we are standing, was founded in 1923 and protects the Apennine wolf, Apennine chamois (a type of antelope), gryphon vultures and the endemic Marsican brown bear, a critically endangered variety of the Eurasian brown bear that survives in and around the park. We’re lucky to spot one – Rewilding Apennines estimates only 60 to 90 individual bears are left. They typically start hibernating around in December or earlier, but their habits are shifting due to global warming.
Tourism is a powerful aid to…