The “Wild Heart of Italy”
The Central Apennines are characterized by a rich diversity of ecosystems and, therefore also wildlife species. Among the most important habitats are its beech woods, open hillsides and alpine grasslands.
Who would have thought that you could watch wild wolves and bears in their natural surroundings, just an hour and a half out of ”The Eternal City” Rome? This is the last stronghold for the local bear subspecies, the Marsican brown bear.
The Apennines is the second main mountain range of Italy and stretches for hundreds of kilometers from the north to the south along the Country’s main axis. The Central Apennines, which are more precisely included in the administrative Italian regions Abruzzo, Latium and Molise, is a very large area with several mountains reaching altitudes above 2,000 m. Among these we find the Corno Grande peak in the Gran Sasso massif that with an altitude of 2,912 m is the highest mountain of the range, the Majella massif with Monte Amaro (2,793 m), the Marsica Mountains, Mt. Sirente and the Mt. Velino. These are typically steep limestone mountains. The limestone bedrock here, when weathered, creates a classic karstic landscape, typically devoid of surface water.
Large beech forests, many of which many are centuries-old and probably among the oldest in Europe, cover the mountain slopes in many areas. Among the huge trees and their mossy stems live large populations of wild herbivores like red deer (reintroduced since the middle of the seventies), roe deer and wild boar. These species in many places share their habitats with large herds of semi-wild horses and cattle and together represent the main prey for the wolves, whose density in some Apennine areas is possibly the highest in Europe. Abruzzi is one of the best spots in the Old World to watch this beautiful and elusive carnivore. Nevertheless, the most charismatic and famous inhabitant of the mountain forests here is the Marsican brown bear, an endemic subspecies to this region, whose core range lies mostly within the narrow boundaries of the Abruzzi National Park and its surroundings.
The many different open and wooded habitats here also host an incredible array of plant species, including endemics like the Marsican iris (Iris marsica) the wild paeony (Paeonia officinalis subsp. italica), and Ice-Age relicts like the spectacular Lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) or the rare ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum).
Vast high altitude prairies lie above the timberline and host many other unique wildlife and plant species. These open grasslands are the prime habitat for the the endemic Apennine chamois which is present with several hundred individuals in the wildest and most rugged areas of the area. Chamois share their range with impressive birds like the golden eagle and the griffon vulture. The latter was successfully reintroduced in the Monte Velino area during the early 1990s and can now be found over a large area here, feeding on the many carcasses of wild herbivores and semi-domestic livestock. Furthermore, in spring and summer these open high-altitude landscapes provide the unique spectacle of hundreds of flower species in bloom, including rare and endemic plants like Apennine pheasant’s eye, Apennine vanilla orchid, and Apennine edelweiss.