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Carpathian Mountain range in Slovakia

Environment & Wildlife

Breathe in the White Wilderness

January 12th 2015

Tagged: Conservation, Lynx, Research, Slovakia, Volunteering Abroad, Wolf

The Carpathian Mountains span as an arc across Central and Eastern Europe with Europe’s largest populations of brown bear, wolves, chamois and lynx. Now, it is that time of year. Hunting season is almost over and the snow lies thick on top of the mountains. The carnivores and prey of the region have moved to the valleys and foothills of the mountains to avoid the deepest snow. It is here, in the Slovakian part of the mountains, that the Carpathian wolf tracking project partakes on its fieldwork that helps protect the wolf and lynx populations.

For centuries, Europe has experienced a huge decline in its wolf populations, in some places even extinction, due to human activity and persecution. Not until the 1950s did the wolf population gradually start to recover, as countries allowed the species to restore itself. In some parts of the Slovakian territory, it remains legal to hunt wolves during certain periods of the year. This does not apply to the mountains in eastern Slovakia, also known as the ‘Wolf Mountains’, as a hunting ban was enforced last year. The Eurasian Lynx also used to be quite common in nature, yet by the middle of the 19th century, it ceased to exist in most of Europe. Now, it has been attempted to reintroduce the lynx in the European forests and with successful results so far; the largest population being in the Carpathian Mountains.

In the region of Liptov, located between the Tatras and Low Tatras National Parks of Slovakia, the Wolf Watch project started in 2010. According to environmentalists, the wolf and lynx are being hunted to almost extinction during hunting season. However, hunters claims that the populations are becoming too numerous. Thus the main purpose of the project is to collect DNA from the wolves and lynx in the area to estimate the minimum population. By using objective and reliable methods, they can estimate the numbers of either population and detect any changes that might require attention, such as numbers getting too low.

In a few weeks, the project will receive the first group of volunteers that will join locals, nature conservationists, foresters, landowners and hunters among others on their sixth season together in the field. As a volunteer, the work entails trekking 10-20km a day in mountainous terrain. Needless to say that one needs to be physically fit, and able to endure at times difficult terrain in cold conditions.

The aim is to track wolves and lynx following their footprints and what they leave behind. Along the way, one might also come across tracks of wild boar, deer, hare and sometimes even bear, but rarely one will encounter the animals. Tracking wild animals require patience and endurance and one’s time at the project will pass by quickly. Volunteers can breathe in the wilderness of the mountains, enjoy the beautiful scenery and make new acquaintances while supporting the important work of the Wolf Watch project.

For those impatiently waiting to get going or those whose curiosity have been aroused. “The Wolf Mountains” is a documentary about the Eastern Carpathians, also known as the Wolf Mountains. For years, the creators trekked the wilderness of the mountains in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine observing the rich and diverse wildlife of the mountains. Whether you made it to this year’s team of volunteers heading to Slovakia in a few weeks or not; watch this piece that tells the story of one of the last remaining wildlife areas in Europe. It will educate and prepare those who are going, and maybe even inspire others to join in the future.

To find out more about this project, check out the Project page here.

By Charlotte Laursen, WorkingAbroad Team

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