The Gran Paradiso National Park is located in the Graian Alps in north west Italy, stretching across the regions of Aosta Valley and Piedmont. It is 703 square kilometres in area and, combined with the adjacent Vanoise National Park of France, it makes up the largest protected area in Europe.
The origins of the National Park date back to before the unification of Italy, when Victor Emmanuel, later to become the first king of Italy, created a Royal Hunting Reserve in 1856. He was concerned that the uncontrolled hunting of the Alpine Ibis had led to an alarming decrease in their numbers. Later, in 1920, Victor Emmanuel's grandson, king Victor Emmanuel III, donated the original 21 square kilometres of land to create what was the first National Park in Italy.
When the park was first created, there were 4,000 Alpine Ibex within its boundaries. However, poaching continued until 1945, by when the numbers had dropped to 419. since then, increased protection has restored their numbers back to the original 4,000.
The national park is named after the mountain of the same name, the only mountain over 4,000 metres located entirely on Italian territory. The Mont Blanc massif lies across the border between Italy and France, and the Matterhorn, along the border between Italy and Switzerland.
As well as the Alpine Ibex, the park also provides a safe haven for the Ermine, Weasel, Hare, Eurasian Badger, Alpine Chamois, Wolf and Lynx. Bird species include: the Urasian Eagle-owl, Rock Ptarmigan, Alpine Accentor, Chough, Golden Eagle, Wallcreeper, Black Woodpeckers and Nutcrackers.
The terrain in the National Park is a mixture of forest, Alpine meadow and mountain terrain. The altitude ranges from 800 metres to over 4,000 metres, and there are 57 glaciers within its boundaries.