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THE CARPATHIAN LARGE CARNIVORE PROJECT

 

REPORT

by Tim Clark


Picture - M. Dice

On 6th February 2000 a team of fourteen members of the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) set off for Romania to track wolves and lynx in the Carpathian Mountains.

Based in the small Transylvanian town of Zarnesti we were working with Christoph and Barbara Promberger from the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project (CLCP). The CLCP was set up six years ago and is Europe's largest research and conservation project about wolves, lynx and bears.

All three species have their most significant European populations outside of Russia in the Romanian Carpathians with wolves in this area accounting for around 32% of the total European population. 

Since Romania is undergoing major political and socio-economic changes the potential threat to the large carnivores is significant. Without intervention it is almost inevitable that large carnivores in Romania will lose areas of their natural habitats and decline in numbers. As Christoph explains 'the overall goal of the CLCP is to establish a community-based conservation of large carnivores and their habitat in a model region in the Southern Carpathians through an integrated management approach'.

A major part of this goal is the establishment and development of an ecotourism programme in which tourists visit the project and explore the region looking for wildlife and tracks. This in turn provides a boost to the local economy which caters for these tourists by providing good quality accommodation, transport, trained local guides and souvenirs consisting of local arts and crafts. Romania is a poor country compared with Western Europe and the idea is to encourage the locals to participate in the ecotourism programme so as to have a financial stake in the preservation of the area. Only in this way, Christoph argues, will the project stand a realistic chance in the long term of preserving the uniquely unspoilt Carpathian habitat and wildlife.


Picture - M.Perring

The large carnivores are tracked by following their prints in the snow. This provides information to the CLCP about the movement, range and numbers of the large carnivores. It can also lead to the discovery of kill sites. When wolves or lynx kill their prey they will probably not devour it all in one sitting and will often return to the site on two or three consecutive nights to feed. If a kill site is discovered, traps are set in the vicinity with the hope of catching the carnivore. If it is caught a radio collar is fitted to the wolf or lynx which will then enable its behaviour and movement to be tracked by means of telemetry. It was by this means that the CLCP was able to demonstrate for the first time that wolves are able to adapt to an urban environment and can exist in closer proximity to humans than was ever thought possible with no real danger to either species.

For fourteen days we split up into three teams and traversed the ridges, valleys, forests and meadows of the Carpathian Mountains looking for tracks. After a couple of days training from Christoph and Barbara on the difference between wolf and dog tracks, between lynx and feral cat tracks, and on how to use the bear spray with which each group was supplied in case of a close encounter with a bear, we were able to identify not only the type of animal which had made a particular set of tracks but how long ago those tracks had been made. On many occasions we found wolf and lynx tracks in the snow and followed these as long as daylight permitted. Often tracks made by the same animal would be followed by different teams on the same day as each of the teams were given a different valley or ridge to cover on a particular day, and the animals covered so much ground. As well as providing useful information to the project about the movements of the different species, this enabled us to understand the huge ranges that wolves and lynx patrol and which comprise their territories. Sometimes scats (droppings) were found and these would be collected so that they could be analysed by the project to find out what the wolves and lynx had been eating. On occasions tracks would lead up the steepest of inclines or down the most treacherous of snow-covered descents. Undeterred the intrepid SES teams, clad in user friendly snow shoes and armed with snow poles, followed tenaciously, pausing only to consume vast quantities of chocolate and glucose tablets in order to fuel their pursuit further.

During the course of the two weeks two lynx kill sites were found. Unfortunately they were too old for it to be worth setting up traps. One lucky member had the good fortune to catch a fleeting glimpse of a real live wolf as well as 'enjoying' an encounter with a brown bear. On seeing the bear lumbering up a wooded hill towards thick forest he chased fearlessly after it armed only with his camera. On sighting a second set of bear tracks heading into the undergrowth and running parallel to the first set of tracks, discretion became the better part of valour and he beat a hasty retreat.


Picture - C. Sloan

But it was not just wolf and bear that were spotted. SES members also saw fox and the main prey of the lynx, roe deer as well as observing the tracks of red deer, marten, wild cat, weasel, chamois, hare, red squirrel and wild boar.

All in all a good time was had by all. Out fitness levels improved and we discovered and explored a beautiful and unspoilt corner of the world. We also learned how to use radios, telemetry equipment and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). An unexpected bonus was the high standard of food and accommodation offered to us by our Romanian hosts, Gigi Popa and his family. After a long day spent tracking in the mountains there was great comfort to be had in the knowledge that we would soon be sitting down to enjoy a decent and appetising meal in pleasant surroundings, washed down by good quality local wine amongst entertaining company. Gigi even catered successfully for the team's two vegetarians which was no mean feat in a country with no culture of vegetarianism and without the variety of fresh produce available that we take for granted.

Most evenings Christoph and Barbara dined with us and on several occasions gave us fascinating lectures about the groundbreaking work being undertaken at the project. The ensuing question and answers often lasted until late into the night.

On the rare days off there was even time for a little sightseeing and some of us visited the famous Bran Castle - reputedly Dracula's castle in years gone by - as well as the sumptuous Peles Castle in nearby Sinaia. A few SES members also went riding whilst others 'walked' the two tame wolves called Crai and Poiana belonging to the CLCP. Looking back on the two weeks it is fair to say that, although we were not able to trap and radio collar a wolf or a lynx, we did make a valuable contribution to the pioneering work of the project, whilst at the same time enjoying the delights of a corner of a country where international tourism is in its infancy and wildlife in the ascendancy.



Picture - C. Sloan

 

 

 

 

THE CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS, ROMANIA

(Click on the thumbnail to see a full size map of the area)

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For further information please contact:

The Scientific Exploration Society
Expedition Base
Motcombe, Shaftesbury
Dorset, SP7 9PB
Tel: 01747 854898
Fax: 01747 851351
base@ses-explore.org

Carpathian Large Carnivore Project (www.clcp.ro)
Str. Mare 887
RO-2241 Prejmer
Romania
Tel. ++40-94-532 798
Fax ++40-68-482 391
bcp@deltanet.ro

Romania Travel Centre - James@Romtrav.Demon.Co.Uk
Ecovolunteer agency in Germany oneworld@gmx.de
Prof. Hermann Kurmes, Carpathian Nature Tours - 0040 69 832 101
Gigi Popa - Guest House Manager - 0040 68 223070