The cub was found lifeless in the Castel di Guido wildlife sanctuary on April 10th, according to the charity that runs it, Lipu, and a post-mortem confirmed that it was killed by blunt force trauma, likely caused by a vehicle.
"Great sorrow for the animal's death was followed by anger for the evidently non-natural causes of its demise," Lipu wrote in a statement on Facebook.
The cub, born around a year ago, had a condition that meant it could not use its hind legs. The park's concealed wildlife cameras filmed it lagging behind the rest of the pack, which never abandoned it despite its disability, Lipu said.
The charity, which has informed the authorities, suspects that a driver may have hit the wolf deliberately.
"It's hard to believe this was an unintended accident," its statement said. "It doesn't seem credible that on a dirt road, where the uneven surface forces you to reduce your speed and yet straight enough that you can see a long way ahead, it wouldn't be possible to avoid an animal that, due to its physical disability, was moving very slowly."
Staff didn't find any skid marks in the mud that would indicate the driver had attempted to swerve, Lipu said.
Photo: Oasi LIPU Castel di Guido/Facebook
While the 180-hectare reserve is supposed to be off-limits to all except authorized vehicles, Lipu says that it frequently finds – and reports to the authorities – gates and barriers left open, often when poachers are found to have intruded.
"We cannot exclude the possibility that this time one of these criminals used their car as a hunting weapon instead of a gun, taking out among other things the weakest member of the pack that couldn't even use escape as its defence.
"It leaves us with great bitterness to see that an incredible effort by the pack, that above all expectations successfully took care of a disabled member of its family, met on one hand with the terrible cruelty of some members of the human species, and on the other with the indifference of those responsible for managing such a precious place entrusted to their custody."
The Castel di Guido had its first wild wolf births in more than a century last year, keeping the litter a secret for months until they were sure of the cubs' survival.
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Wolves are thought to have made their way to the reserve, located to the west of the ring road that surrounds Rome, from the area around Lake Bracciano to the north, which has long had a wolf population.
While the animals are rare in the capital, in recent years they have thrived in more rural parts of Italy, notably the mountainous regions of the Apennines and the Alps.
Their growing numbers have brought them into conflict with farmers, who complain that attacks on livestock have risen sharply. Calls for a cull have so far been met with fierce opposition from environmentalists, who last year blocked a proposal to reduce Italy's wolf population by five percent.
The European Union will hold a summit on the issue on May 15th, where representatives from South Tyrol and other northern Italian regions will push for greater freedom to manage local wolf populations.
Photo: Oasi LIPU Castel di Guido