Just Freedom 20 months on

A year and a half ago, the Just Freedom centre, one of the first facilities in Europe completely dedicated to the recovery, care and reintegration of wolves – which have either have been found injured or are the victims of poisonings or poaching – back in to the wild, was built at the Monte Adone Centre for Conservation and Research of Exotic and Wild Fauna in Italy, thanks to a donation by Almo Nature.

Just Freedom’s first ‘in-patients’ were Francesco and Spartaco, two injured wolf pups who spent several months at the centre rehabilitating because they were unable to return to the wild without human help first. The two cubs grew into beautiful adults and were released together on 5 May, 2014, an emotional, but unforgettable, moment for the volunteers who had taken care of the them for so long.

Since opening, there has been little rest for the Just Freedom centre staff. Volunteers have worked tirelessly to accommodate the number of wolves found ill or seriously injured across the country.

A few months after the liberation of Francesco and Spartaco, another wolf pup arrived at the centre, weary and tired after being found in Montefegatesi, a mountain village in the province of Lucca (Tuscany). After treatment, the wolf named Frodo was rehabilitated for release, but unlike Francesco and Spartaco, Frodo had the good fortune to re-join his pack.

A month after finding Frodo, Zelda, a six-year-old wolf who had been hit by a car and was seriously injured, arrived at Just Freedom. The release of Zelda, once healed, was a great success: like Frodo, she was returned to the territory she’d originally come from in the province of Pesaro.

In late August of the same year Ares, a hybrid cub who’d been condemned to certain death by the cruel individual who’d thrown him into a landfill in Basilicata in a closed plastic bag, arrived at the centre. A girl had found him at the tip and given him first aid, she’d also cared for him until his transfer to the rescue centre could be arranged. Ares was completely healed during his stay at Just Freedom and was also socialised with wolves that arrived in the months following his arrival.

Over time, the facility has become a leading hub for many of the sick and injured wolves and hybrids found across the country. For example:

– In February 2015, another wolf ‘Mirco’ who’d fallen into the channel of a paper mill in Marzabotto in the province of Bologna, arrived at the centre for treatment; Mirco’s arrival was followed by yet another wolf named Agatha, who arrived weak and exhausted.

– In autumn, the centre welcomed Lara, a six-month-old hybrid wolf, the victim of poaching, who was cared for and raised along with Ares, with whom she socialised like a brother.

– Leon, a young eight-month-old wolf pup, was brought to the centre in December, after being hit by a car near Imola (Reggio Emilia).

– Then there was Luce, another hybrid wolf, found in Savona (Liguria) in April 2016. Luce is still hospitalised at Just Freedom pending the results of examinations and tests for sight and hearing afflictions to check if these key senses can be restored enough to allow her to safely return to the wild. Luce is not the only wolf at the facility currently however: Cosmo, the victim of a road traffic accident, who was found in the centre of the small city of Fano (Emilia Romagna), is also receiving some TLC.

As part of a solid collaboration with the Wolf Apennine Centre (WAC), the wolves at Just Freedom are fitted with radio collars that can track their every move before being released. In fact, even after their release, thanks to the technical expertise of the WAC, wolves are monitored remotely to check their survival skills and their return to their respective packs.

The radio collar also sometimes permits us to discover wonderful stories, like that of Mirco who secured an important role in the care and growth of the wolf pups in his pack when he was successfully returned to the wild.

Frodo was still a puppy when he was returned to freedom, this prompt return helped facilitate his rapid reintegration into the pack. To check on his progress, he was fitted with a temporary collar specifically designed by the WAC technicians so as to not hinder his movements and growth, since the weight of regular radio collars makes them only suitable for specimens over 17kg in weight.

Francesco, Spartaco, Frodo, Zelda, Ares, Mirco, Agatha, Lara, Leon, Luce and Cosmo. Their passage through the Just Freedom centre has left many wonderful memories for all the volunteers who have worked so hard to ensure the animals received all the care and attention they required to be released once more. Each and every release has been very emotional, but equally rewarding for the whole team, knowing that the wolves have returned to live in freedom in the wild.

A year and a half after its inauguration, the Just Freedom centre is being celebrated as a big success: wolf after wolf has been healed and returned to wild, enjoying the freedom that rightly belongs to every living creature.

All, that is, except Spartaco, one of the first two wolves to receive care at Just Freedom. Sometime after his release, he was unfortunately found dead in the woods.

Despite this, it is the concerted effort of the 12 volunteers and more than 15 veterinarians working at the centre who have made Just Freedom the successful and worthwhile facility it is today.

Just Freedom is a project of ‘aLmore’; it represents the commitment and the deep respect Almo Nature has towards animals and their wild nature. This respect is why Almo Nature has chosen to leave the complete management of Just Freedom to the Monte Adone Centre – never interfering, apart from setting one condition: all recovered wolves must be returned to freedom and the wild.