Gran Paradiso. The King’s Last Park Rangers
A journey through one of the world’s oldest parks, celebrating its 100th birthday in 2022
They are one of the oldest teams of rangers in the world, established two centuries ago in the Piedmont Alps as gamekeepers of the king of the House of Savoy. Today there are 44 of them, a carefully selected elite whose task is to safeguard Italy’s first protected area: the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso (Gran Paradiso National Park), which in 2022 will become 100 years old. “Each of us is assigned a specific area, which over time we get to know like the back of our hand”
explains Claudia Linty, 43, one of seven female park rangers. Her patch is now the Orvieille area, two thousand hectares of lakes, valleys and peaks standing over three thousand meters high: “the environment must be protected – continues Claudia – but sitting at your desk and reading books isn’t enough: you have to get out there and truly experience nature”.
Hence why these park rangers, heirs of those ancient Savoy gamekeepers, some of whom are even direct descendants, work from dawn till dusk, sleeping in high altitude huts, to carry out a long series of tasks: patrolling the area, helping tourists, assisting with rescue operations, combating poachers and conducting a census of the wide ranging fauna that call the park home. Like wolves, for example, which have returned to inhabit the valleys, or the legendary ibex, which is threatened by epidemics and climate change.
Considered sacred and hunted for their meat and their ‘aphrodisiac’ horns, at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were less than seventy remaining in the glacial areas of Valsavaranche and Val di Cogne. Indirectly, it was King Victor Emmanuel II who ended up protecting them when he established an exclusive Royal Hunting Reserve: only he could kill them, and so he saved them from extinction.
Sometimes, when Claudia is in the hut preparing coffee, she catches some ibex standing outside observing her: “ours is a lonely job, but I like it, I don’t feel alone. And seeing an ibex peeking through the window makes me feel even more a part of this nature that us park rangers are helping to defend and protect”.