Colin Shaw of Roving Romania
is a founder member of the
Association of Ecotourism
Adventure Travel & Exploration
WILDLIFE IN ROMANIA
This page is intended to answer some “frequently asked questions” about wildlife in Romania and how you can see it.
Q: Can I watch bears and wolves (and lynx) in Romania?
Whilst some less responsible tour operators advertise bear and wolf “watching” tours in Romania, it is practically impossible to see wolves in the wild, and bears are very difficult indeed to see. Wolf and bear “watching” is misleading – we prefer to talk about wild animal “searching”.
The three species of ‘Large Carnivore’ (bears are in fact omnivores) found in Romania are largely nocturnal, and very secretive. Their behaviour and their habitats – living in dense forest and (especially lynx) on high and inaccessible mountain crags – makes it extremely difficult for all but the most determined human visitor to track and see them! Bears feed mainly on forest fruit, insects, plant roots, bee’s honey, etc., but will eat meat if they cannot find other food – even attacking rural farmsteads for chickens or larger domestic animals. Wolves feed almost entirely on meat – hunting usually in pairs or packs and attacking sheep flocks at night or taking poultry from farms. Lynx generally keep well away from human habitation with the exception of occasional attacks on flocks of sheep, preferring to feed on wild mountain goats like chamois.
The situation in Romania is totally different to that in areas of Africa that offer wildlife “safaris” – usually in open expanses of terrain or where food is put out daily as bait to encourage wild animals to feeding points so they can be seen by tourists. This does not happen in Romania and this is one of the reasons why Romania still has some 5000 European brown bear, over 2500 wolves, and about 1500 lynx – some 40% of the European population of all 3 species! These animals survive in these numbers through lack of contact with humans, though continued hunting and poaching is resulting in a gradual decline!
Carpathian Large Carnivore Project: The team members and students working at the well-known Carpathian Large Carnivore Project (CLCP) based in Zarnesti, used to make occasional sightings of bears and wolves but they were working full-time in the forest and mountains! They very rarely saw the elusive lynx. CLCP’s efforts have ensured that bears, wolves and lynx are now protected in Romania, though sport hunting of all 3 species is still allowed at certain times of the year. In theory this is strictly controlled but there is quite a lot of ‘flexibility’ and the overall numbers of each species are declining gradually. As a tour company we are ecologists and conservationists, and are thus totally opposed to hunting!
CLCP’s work has shown local people that real income can be gained from true ecotourism activities. In the Zarnesti area where CLCP was based, a wide range of ecotourism activities have developed: pensions and guesthouses, a restaurant, craft shop, horse riding, bird watching, a national park, etc. We are part of this network and Colin is a founder member of the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER).
CLCP’s research work came to an end in 2003. Towards the end of the Project, much time, money and energy was invested in developing a plan for the construction of a new Large Carnivore Visitor’s Centre, where visitors would have been able to see bears, wolves, lynx, wild boar, chamois, red deer, and other endemic species in natural surroundings. The human visitor would have been the “caged” mammal, with the wildlife still effectively wild! Sadly however this Centre has been cancelled as a result of an unfavourable local political climate.
CLCP Wolf Cabana: The only contact with CLCP that we can now offer, is to take people to the “Wolf Cabana” for a short visit to meet the two semi-tame wolves that worked as part of the CLCP research team. On occasions it may be possible to meet a human member of the old CLCP team when available, although as we have worked alongside CLCP for several years we can also give much information about the project’s activities. For the time being, the visit to the wolf cabana to meet “Crai” and “Poiana” is still available, although at their present age of 13 the wolves are getting rather “long in the tooth” (sorry for the pun!). Currently “Crai” and “Poiana” are being fed and cared for by Hermann and Katerina Kurmes from Carpathian Nature Tours based in nearby Magura.
UPDATE AUTUMN 2008: The visit to the ex CLCP wolves will probably no longer be possible. Sadly, Poiana died in May at the ripe old age of 12 years (good for a wolf in captivity) and Crai is due to be moved to a new location where he will be with other animals, and will be safe.
Wildlife Tracking: What we CAN offer is exploring the forests around Zarnesti (and in other parts of Romania) either by Land Rover (with restrictions), on foot with local guides, on horse-back, by horse-drawn cart, or by bicycle. You will be in areas where you have a reasonable chance of seeing markings and maybe tracks made by large carnivores, and a very small chance of spotting a bear. Seeing wolves or lynx must be regarded as impossible! Wildlife tracking is led by knowledgeable, specialist guides who speak fluent English.
Bear Watching Hides: There are now a couple of bear watching hides available in the Zarnesti area and Vrancea Mountains. Visits have to be booked well in advance, and we do this through other small travel organisations that are members of AER. Payment must be made separately to them. There is an additional charge for photography or filming.
NEW FOR 2009: we hope to offer truly wild tracking and sightings of bear and lynx in the Bucegi Mountains, in conjunction with a fellow member of the Association of Ecotourism in Romania. This will involve some fairly strenuous hiking. Watch this space!
Q: What are the “Racadau” rubbish skip bears?
It is now well known that wild bears could be seen at dusk in a suburb of Brasov feeding from rubbish skips – wild bears but not “in the wild”. By 2004 this situation had become an ecological ‘time-bomb’. The bears had become used to human contact, but are still very large, unpredictable, protective, and potentially aggressive animals. Ecologists were worried that if a human onlooker, or a local, were to be attacked, then the bears would be shot without question. CLCP worked hard at discouraging the bears from feeding on human rubbish, educating local people about the dangers, and trying to persuade the rubbish collection contractors to install bear-proof bins.
In October 2004 a local man was attacked and killed by one of the Racadau bears. As predicted, there was a public outcry – with support from the Brasov City Council – to have the bears shot. This was started but was soon stopped by national and international pressure from the environmentalist lobby. Other measures have been taken, some of the bears have been transported to other locations, and security guards have been patrolling to discourage humans lingering in the area in hope of a “sighting”. There have been other attacks on humans since 2004 and whilst the numbers of bears feeding from human rubbish has declined, the situation has not yet been solved. We do NOT take people to Racadau to see bears, other than scientific visits carried out with the approval of the local authorities.
Q: Where CAN we see wildlife in Romania?
Our good friend, colleague and business partner – Count Tibor Kalnoky – based at Miklosvar about 50kms north of Brasov, is a qualified wildlife specialist. Tibor runs a very comfortable rural guesthouse and employs one of Romania’s foremost bird watching experts. In past years visitors to Tibor’s guesthouse have been able to see bears and even wolves on occasion in the nearby forests. These sightings have declined since 2002 due to local forest clearances, but occasional sightings still happen. We can take you to meet Tibor and his team, and can arrange a short or longer stay for you at Miklosvar.
We can arrange expeditions into the forests and mountains of Romania, by Land Rover, on foot, by mountain bike, on horse back, or by horse-drawn cart (sleigh in winter), to explore the habitat that supports almost 40% of Europe’s population of large carnivores – along with large populations of other endemic fauna and flora. The Piatra Craiului and Bucegi mountains – with their adjacent forests and hill country near Zarnesti and Brasov are relatively accessible and have good fauna and flora viewing opportunities provided you explore with a competent local wildlife guide. Do not expect to see large carnivores though!
You can still visit the CLCP’s “Wolf Cabana” research base where you are likely to meet the 2 semi-tame wolves that were rescued from a fur farm by CLCP researchers. You will be able to talk to them, touch them (if they choose to let you!), feed them some cheese, and maybe even howl with them. “Crai” and “Poiana” are used to being photographed and live in a large wooded enclosure to which humans are not admitted for safety reasons. You will however, learn a lot about Romania’s wildlife by meeting them!
Bird Watching: There are many excellent bird watching areas in Romania, the most stunning of which is the Danube Delta – 5000 square kilometres of waterways, lakes, floating reed beds, sand dunes and virgin forest. Access to, and within, the Delta is possible but quite difficult and time is needed. There are however many other good bird watching areas that are more accessible and nearer to our base in Brasov. Whilst not a bird watching expert, I am able to offer successful bird watching tours in the Delta and other areas using my fairly extensive knowledge, or I can arrange a bird watching guide for you if you need a real expert!
Botany: In Romania much land is still farmed by hand by smallholder owners using primitive equipment not seen in Britain since pre-war times. Because of this, and the minimal use of artificial fertilisers in farming, the wild flower and plant cover in meadows is still exceptional – probably now unique in Europe, according to British botanists. I am even less a botanist than a bird expert, but I have reasonable knowledge of good areas for wild flowers and plants. Again, by prior arrangement and in some areas, I can provide a botanical guide for you.
In conclusion therefore, whilst we do not offer “bear and wolf watching”, we DO offer successful wildlife tracking, botanical and bird-watching tours, in various parts of Romania. ALL of our past clients who have undertaken a wildlife tour with us have learnt much about Romania’s exceptional wildlife and its natural habitat. Many have commented after their tour that in fact it is BETTER not to see bears and wolves, when you realise how fragile is their continued existence, and how dependant this is on minimising contact with humans! These clients have been very satisfied to have explored the habitats in which these large carnivores roam, knowing the animals are not far away, yet still unseen. We hope you will appreciate this too!
Discover the REAL Romania with Roving Romania!
E-mail: [email protected]