By Aurora Velez
Under the skin of these mountains, between Croatia and Slovenia, the big carnivores are back. In retreat for decades because of human activity, lynx, bears and wolves have increased in numbers, thanks to more protective legislation.
Dina works with a European cross-border project: Carnivora Dinarica, which aims to protect these three big carnivores and to improve coexistence between them and humans. In the Risnjak National Park, Dina is the eyes of the forest…
Walking through the undergrowth between the trees, she spots something many would not even grant a second glance: tracks.
“It could be fox or wolf,” she muses. “It’s probably a wild animal because dogs usually wander around a lot to sniff, so their footprints are all over the place. Whereas wild animals, like foxes and especially wolves like to keep a straight line.”
At the moment, in the mountains of the Dinaric Alps of southeastern Europe there are thousands of bears, hundreds of wolves and about 70 lynx.
A number of concrete actions have been put in place to complete this cross-border project at a cost €2.3 million.
These include electrical fences, guard dogs, a shelter for abandoned lynx cubs and bear-friendly rubbish bins, all carefully designed to promote peaceful coexistence between carnivores and humans.
The European Cohesion Policy is responsible for 85% of the funding. The remaining 15% is covered by the other entities which are also involved in the project.
Among the other backers are a number of universities, local councils and NGOs, all of whom recognise the importance of preserving the carnivore populations.
Tomaž Volk’s farm in Suhorje, Slovenia has been voted the “best practising farm”.
It has 16 horses and a herd of sheep and goats – all of which are exposed and vulnerable to attacks from large carnivores.
In order to avoid them, he will install a 1.7m electric fence which bears can’t destroy and wolves can’t cross. To protect his livestock, the fence has to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s very important that the fence always has electricity, even if the animals are not in the pen. That way, large carnivores will associate touching the electric fence with pain, and no longer approach, no longer attack the livestock,” he told Euronews.
Meanwhile just half an hour up the road, in Pivka, Alesh’s herd is protected by a totally different measure offered by the project: guard dogs, which he trains. He is one of five farmers to opt for this kind of carnivore deterrent.
“You are in danger because of the wolves all year round. I have some dogs. Somehow they are scaring the wolves away. The wolf is too clever to go into battle with a big dog. So he thinks to himself: “why would I fight for one piece of meat with a dog if I can get one in nature without a fight?” he said.
Back in Risnjak, Dina stops to examine the bones of a red deer devoured by wolves.
A scary sight, and one that reminds us that we are not alone, but that doesn’t mean we should be afraid of big carnivores.
According to Dina: “You have to know more about their biology and ecology in order to understand them and how they live, and this way we can coexist with them in a better way.”