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The population is dropping due both to poaching and also the poor state of the grazing land by Antonio Sigismondi
Photo Archivio Fotogramma
If the presence of an extensive and well-structured forest like the Umbra complex seems like an exceptional event, since Puglia is the region in Italy with fewest forests, the presence in this forest of an autochthonous population of Italian Roe-Deer has something of the miraculous about it.
The populations of the roe-deer in the Gargano descend directly (rare case in Italy) from those that were hunted first by the Romans, then by Federico II of Swabia, right up until the more recent large-scale hunting that went on during and just after the last war almost wiped out the population completely.
Only in two other places in the country, on the mountains of Orsomarso in Calabria and in the holding of Castelporziano in Lazio, do we find roe-deer of such noble origins. All the other populations, in fact, turn out to be cross-bred with Central European individuals introduced for hunting purposes. These populations belong to a sub-species classified as Italian Roe-Deer (Capreolus capreolus italicus), and are distinguishable from their European brothers by some aspects of coloring and slightly smaller dimensions and for a different ecology.
Amongst these nucleuses of Italian Roe-Deer, the population in the Gargano National Park is certainly the most ecologically isolated, and therefore it is the most likely place for the characteristics of the autochthonous population to have been conserved. Witness to the diversity of the Gargano population are the first genetic investigations (Lorenzini R. et al. 2001), which by comparing the various populations in the Mediterranean basin reveal the presence of a totally unique element that differentiates the genetic heritage of the Gargano Roe-Deer. In the past the species was very common on the promontory; in 1911 Ghigi considered it frequent and reported it as the only population on the Adriatic coast of Italy. Various investigations (Tassi 1969, Tinelli and Lauriola 1985, Perco 1985) already noticed a steep drop in the population. Also the observations carried out by Apollonio and Trocchi (1986) confirm this tendency. The present situation of the Gargano Roe-Deer, on the basis of preliminary investigations into its distribution, carried out from 1995 to 2001 (Gioiosa et al. 1998a, 1998b and 2000), by the Centro Studi Naturalistici and then by the Nature Observatory in the Park, appears to be critical, mainly because of the phenomenon of poaching, the presence of stray dogs and probably the poor state of the grazing land.
The mix of all these factors, and probably of some other as yet unknown ones, means that the deer are present almost exclusively in the territories that are strictly forest within the Umbra complex, in particular in the beech wood, and not, as one would imagine, in areas much more suitable to the species. There are some projects being carried out at the moment to learn more about the species, promoted by the Gargano National Park, and with this data it is to be hoped that there will soon be precise indications about further action to be taken for the conservation of this important category of fauna that has always been considered a symbol of the Park.