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From royal hunting reserve to national park: How the Gran Paradiso became a sanctuary for the ibex
The Gran Paradiso area has historically been at the core of attempts made by the Piedmontese royal house to preserve the ibex (Capra ibex). By 1821 the Piedmontese government had forbidden ibex hunting. Nonetheless, poaching continued almost unabated on the Gran Paradiso massif, where between 1850 and 1856 King Vittorio Emanuele II established a royal hunting reserve, based on a complex system of tenancies with private landowners. This act saved the Alpine ibex from extinction and the ibex populations in the Alps today stem from this original stock.
In September 1919 King Vittorio Emanuele III offered to donate the hunting reserve to the Italian state. However, its inauguration as the first Italian national park was delayed until the end of 1922, when the new Fascist regime decided, as an act of propaganda, to support the project. In the interim, the former hunting reserve became something of a no-man’s-land and a veritable paradise for poachers. Ibex and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) hunters, dressed in military outfit and armed with machine guns, were a common sight before 1922.
Thereafter, conflicts with local communities entitled to hunting rights outside the King’s former private properties arose. These rights were dismissed without provisions being made for compensation. Further conflicts arose between those planning a park for the promotion of mountain tourism in accordance with the so-called American model of recreational parks and those in support of an "ibex sanctuary," a park purely intended for the purposes of conservation and scientific research in accordance with the Swiss model. The Gran Paradiso National Park was ultimately a compromise in which tourism and conservation could coexist.
National Parks in Time and Space
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