Mammalia 2019; 83(5): 483–486
Alessia Mariacher*, Rita Fanelli, Luisa Garofalo, Gabriella Perfetti, Rita Lorenzini
and Rosario Fico
Who is the killer? Barking up the wrong tree
Received June 19, 2018; accepted October 30, 2018; previously
published online December 20, 2018
Abstract: In recent years, several cases of predation on
hunting dogs have been reported in Italy. These cases
caused uproar among owners and the wolf was singled
out as the culprit. The remains of a dog allegedly killed
by wolves were submitted for forensic analysis. Wolf pre-
dation was ruled out based on gross findings and wild
boar aggression was suspected instead. Genetic analysis
of salivary swab samples confirmed that wild boars fed on
the dog. As poaching is one of the main threats to wolf
conservation, it is essential to identify correctly the preda-
tor in cases of attacks on domestic animals.
Keywords: hunting dog; predation; salivary samples; wild
In the winter of 2015–2016, several cases of predation and
consumption on domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
were reported in Tuscany (Central Italy) by local press and
social media. A vast majority of dogs were used for wild
boar (Sus scrofa) hunting. Owners reported that hounds,
unleashed in the woods to track the boars, were found
dead within hours and carcasses appeared largely con-
sumed. These cases caused uproar among hunters and
dog owners, and the wolf (Canis lupus) was singled out
as being responsible for the killings, despite the lack of
official necroscopic examinations or other scientifically
collected evidence on the deceased dogs. In January 2016,
a hound got lost whilst boar hunting in the woods in the
Province of Siena (Tuscany). A couple of hours after dis-
appearance, the dog was found dead thanks to a global
positioning system (GPS) tracker; the carcass appeared to
be extensively but incompletely consumed. The dog was
submitted for post-mortem examination. The aim of this
short report was to outline a forensic approach to preda-
tion cases with media coverage, in which pointing out the
wrong culprit may have negative consequences on the
conservation of endangered species.
The examined dog (Figure 1) was an adult female
Maremma hound. The carcass was devoid of the skin
and superficial muscles. The skin was only preserved
at the head and left rear limb. Skin margins had a scal-
loped appearance and did not show bruising or bleeding,
suggesting that defleshing had occurred post-mortem.
Lesions consistent with intra-vitam or post-mortem car-
nivore bite marks, such as paired incised or punctured
wounds (Pavlov and Hone 1982, Bury etal. 2012), were
not identified. Large chunks of intercostal muscles were
missing, amongst multiple rib fractures. Signs of deep fur-
rowing on the distal bone end were observed on the left
femur, on both compact and cancellous bone (Figure2).
No punctures or pits were identified on bones, while these
lesions are usually produced by carnivore scavenging
(Colard etal. 2014, Young et al. 2015). Viscera were not
affected by consumption. The cause of death could not
be determined due to the incompleteness of the remains.
From necroscopic findings, the signs of consumption
on the carcass were not consistent with the action of a
Eight salivary swab samples were collected with
cotton swabs from the margins of scavenging lesions on
muscles and long bones (one sample per lesion). The
swabs were individually put in sterile plastic tubes and
frozen at −20°C until processing. The DNA was extracted
following published methods (Lorenzini etal. 2014). One
mock tube with reagents and no DNA was included. Two
panels of 18 and 12 nuclear loci specific to Canis lupus
and Sus scrofa, respectively, were amplified following
published protocols (Lorenzini 2005, Lorenzini et al.
2014). Negative controls were added to each polymerase
*Corresponding author: Alessia Mariacher, Istituto Zooprofilattico
Sperimentale delle Regioni Lazio e Toscana, Centro di Referenza
Nazionale per la Medicina Forense Veterinaria, Viale Europa 30,
58100 Grosseto, Italy, e-mail: email@example.com.
Rita Fanelli, Luisa Garofalo and Rita Lorenzini: Istituto
Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Regioni Lazio e Toscana,
Centro di Referenza Nazionale per la Medicina Forense Veterinaria,
Via Tancia 21, 02100 Rieti, Italy
Gabriella Perfetti: Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle
Regioni Lazio e Toscana, Sezione di Siena, Viale Toselli 12, 53100
Rosario Fico: Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Regioni
Lazio e Toscana, Centro di Referenza Nazionale per la Medicina
Forense Veterinaria, Viale Europa 30, 58100 Grosseto, Italy
Open Access. © 2019 Alessia Mariacher et al., published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.
484A. Mariacher etal.: Who is the killer? Barking up the wrong tree
chain reaction (PCR) session to check for contamination.
PCR products were loaded onto an 3130 Genetic Ana-
lyzer (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA). Allele
sizing was performed using the GeneMapper Software
Version 3.1 (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA).
Genetic profiles obtained from the eight samples at the 18
loci specific to C. lupus were all identical and coincided
with the profile of the dog. No alleles attributable only
to wolves were found from any swab. The amplification
of the short tandem repeat (STR) panels specific to S.
scrofa was positive for four salivary samples. One sample
yielded a single complete genotype while the remaining
three swabs showed more than two alleles at three dif-
ferent loci. Statistical analyses assigned the genotypes to
the wild boar population (c.f. Lorenzini 2005, Lorenzini
et al. 2014). Furthermore, the presence of three or four
alleles per locus revealed that at least two boar individu-
als fed on the dog.
Boar hunting in Tuscany is traditionally practiced
with a pack of hounds: the dogs are unleashed in the
woods to track the boars and to push them towards the
hunters. When the hounds meet a pack of wild boars or if
they succeed to isolate an adult boar, a fight can happen
in which the dogs can be severely injured. For this reason,
nowadays hunters commonly employ GPS trackers on
the dog collars, to retrieve injured or deceased dogs.
Lesions produced by wild boar aggression on dogs typi-
cally show a so-called “iceberg effect”, i.e. despite a small
skin wound an extensive damage of underlying tissues is
present, involving large vessels, nerves and viscera. Often
the deeper injury is far from the entrance at the skin level
and 25% of wounds penetrates into the thoracic or abdom-
inal cavity, according to Barsotti etal. (2001). This wound
pattern is due to the typical pointed and curved shape
of canine teeth (the so-called tusks) in the wild boar.
The lower canines are particularly prominent and sharp
in adult male boars (Kose etal. 2011), whilst the lesions
produced by young boars and females, who do not grow
analogous tusks, predominantly consist of shallow bites.
In an experimental study on bone modifications
induced by suids (Domínguez-Solera and Domínguez-
Rodrigo 2009), it was observed that a prominent use of the
incisor teeth provides distinctive features to suids’ tooth-
marking. In contrast to carnivores feeding on bones with
premolars and molars, suids indeed rather remove flesh
with their incisors, producing a characteristic furrowing
with flat removal of cancellous bone.
Cases of fatal aggression by wild boars have been
described in humans, where death is usually attributed to
exsanguination from vascular injuries or evisceration from
penetrating wounds to the abdomen (Langley 1994, Mani-
pady etal. 2006, Bury etal. 2012, Mayer 2013). Wild boars
and feral pigs have also been reported to actively predate
on livestock (Pavlov and Hone 1982, Fico etal. 1993, Barrett
and Birmingham 1994), but in the case of a boar hunt it
is more likely that the aggression was started as a defen-
sive action. In a review on wild pig attacks against humans
(Mayer 2013), it appeared that attacks from boars under
hunting circumstances were mostly inflicted by wounded
animals. Dogs too were frequently involved in these
attacks, and could get injured or killed (Mayer 2013).
In the present case, it can be hypothesized that the dog
has been attacked by one or more boars during the hunt.
Death may have been caused by injuries undetectable after
the extensive consumption of the carcass, such as lacera-
tions of major vessels, or penetrating wounds at the chest
with development of pneumothorax but lack of lesions on
Figure 2:Left femur.
Collection of salivary swab from a consumption mark (furrowing on
the distal bone end).
Figure 1:Extensive consumption on the carcass of an adult female
Maremma hound, found in the woods after being lost during boar
A. Mariacher etal.: Who is the killer? Barking up the wrong tree485
cavitary organs. The aggression eventually evolved into
carcass consumption by at least two different individuals.
The species is a known opportunistic omnivore (DeVault
and Rhodes 2002, Selva etal. 2005) and also in some fatal
attacks on humans, wild boars have been reported con-
suming the remains of the victims (Domínguez-Solera and
Domínguez-Rodrigo 2009, Mayer 2013).
The Italian wolf population has increased in recent
years, especially in Central Italy. In the years 2009–2013,
the Apennines sub-population consistency was estimated
to be 1212–1711 wolves (Galaverni et al. 2016). Official
reports in 2015 counted about 109 reproductive wolf packs
in the Tuscany region alone (Regione Toscana 2017).
The increase in the wolf population caused a resurgence
of conflicts with human activities, especially in areas of
recent recolonization (Lovari etal. 2007). Illegal killings
(poaching with firearms, traps or poison) still represent
one of the main threats to the conservation of the species
(Dondina etal. 2014, Galaverni etal. 2016). For this reason
it is essential not only to implement conflict management
practices, but also to establish with certainty the identity
of the predator in cases of aggression whether on livestock
and pet animals (Fico et al. 2005, Caniglia et al. 2013,
Peltola and Heikkilä 2015) or on humans (Caniglia etal.
2016). Furthermore, reliable predator identification would
be a necessary condition to consider compensation meas-
ures for dog losses due to wolf attacks.
The prejudicial attribution to the wolf in episodes
of predation on dogs in Italy, probably stems from docu-
mented cases in northern Europe or USA (Kojola and Kuit-
tinen 2002, Backeryd 2007, Olson etal. 2014). Most dogs
in these countries are killed by wolves while employed
in hunting activities, and wolf attacks have been shown
to increase during periods of low ungulate prey densi-
ties. Nevertheless, in Italy, wild boar represents the main
prey of the wolf (Mori etal. 2017) and wild boar census in
Tuscany reports a pre-reproductive consistency of 150,000
individuals (Regione Toscana 2018). These data can lead
to ruling out the scarcity of wild prey as a trigger for pos-
sible predatory behavior of wolves on dogs at least in this
region. Overall in the Mediterranean area, caution should
be taken in cases of dog killings to exclude other scenar-
ios that are probably more common, such as aggression
by wild boars to hunting dogs, especially where boars are
Hounds during the hunting season are at risk of
suffering defensive attacks, injuries or being killed by
wild animals who have been disturbed during the hunt.
Defensive behavior and consequent injuries or killings
have been described in Italy by the wild boar (Barsotti
et al. 2001) and the crested porcupine Hystrix cristata
(Mori et al. 2014). However, only the wild boar shows
a feeding behavior on dog remains after the attack.
There are no unique patterns of consumption described
Table 1:Summary of reported cases of wild boar aggressions on domestic animals.
Pavlov and Hone Barsotti etal. Mayer This paper
Lamb (Ovis aries) Dog Dog (%), camel (Camelus
dromedarius), domestic pig
(Sus scrofa), horse (Equus
caballus), ox (Bos taurus)
Location New South Wales (Australia) Tuscany (Italy) Worldwide scale study Tuscany (Italy)
Season Fall and spring n.a. Seasonal increase in attacks
during fall and winter
No Yes (boar hunt) Both hunting and non-
Yes (boar hunt)
N° of domestic
Aggression outcome Death – % deep injuries to
thigh or shoulder
– % penetrating wounds
to chest or abdomen
– % superficial wounds
– % uninjured or escaped
– % injured
– % killed (all dogs)
Yes – n.a. Yes
Necroscopic findings Almost complete
consumption of lamb
carcass in min (see
original paper for detailed
– n.a. – Extensive consumption of
– Deep furrowing on distal
femur, on compact and
486A. Mariacher etal.: Who is the killer? Barking up the wrong tree
on animals killed by wild boars (Table 1), but particu-
lar attention should be paid to bone modifications and
features of bite marks; eventually, necroscopic findings
should be corroborated by molecular analysis. This is
the first report of the combined use of forensic pathology
and genetics to allow identification of wild boar as being
responsible for a case of aggression and consumption on
a hunting dog.
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