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The bears, wolves and lynx of The Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathians Mountains are located in Eastern Europe and spread across seven countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Austria and Romania. With an area of 209,000 km2, around 10 times the size of the Wales. The majority of the Carpathians (more than 60%) are in Romania.

The Carpathians are distinguished from their surrounding regions by there unparalleled biodiversity. An important factor is that the Carpathians receive twice as much rainfall as the surrounding areas. The mountain streams, creeks and rivers feed a great quantity of water into the Danube. In Romania, 80% of the water supply comes out of the Carpathian Mountains.

Habitat and habitants
The Carpathians are home to an abundance of life forms and landscapes, including high mountains, hills, mountain meadows, coniferous, deciduous and mixed forest and valleys. There are a lot rare plants growing here, including many endemic species! Reptiles and amphibians thrive in the humid lowlands and numerous birds, insects and small mammals call the Carpathians their home. Small numbers of beavers and otters are found in the brooks and streams; Alpine marmots and Chamois inhabit the higher hills. The lush mountain meadows support Red deer, Roe deer and the herds of sheep and cattle that traditionally roam the mountains guided by their shepherds. And then of course there are the three large predators. Bears, wolves and lynx are still present in relatively large numbers, and there are also many smaller predators such as martens, weasels, foxes and wild cats.

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Large predators
The Romanian Carpathians are home to 35% of the European brown bear population: estimated at about 4000 animals, but possibly lower according to the charity Muskwa who work to save the bears and their habitat. The number of wolves is between 2500-3000 animals, 40% of European population. The lynx population is thought to be between 1000-2000 animals, some 15% of European population.

Carpathian culture
Aside from the rich biodiversity, the Carpathians also have a very rich culture; ancient castles and fortified villages and villages where it seems that time stood still. People have lived together alongside predators for centuries in relative harmony. Through the years of communist rule, the environment suffered very little damage compared to many Western European countries. The traditional farming and herding methods are very beneficial for the environment.

EU development a threat to the environment
Many of the countries in this region are joining the EU, but that is not to everybody's advantage. Infrastructure projects such as road construction, land privatization and tourism development such as ski resorts threaten the important ecosystems. Large-scale logging and resource extraction also contribute to this, and it is high time for sustainable policies to be implemented. There are good ways to evolve industry and safeguard ecosystems at the same time, which should be made possible with the right effort and necessary support. The Carpathians are the last true European wilderness - More reason to ensure that the Carpathians are safeguarded!

The Carpathians still contain large tracts of wild
scenery that are home to populations of large 

Of the 3 large predator species in the Carpathians, bears have the most contact with humans. In some parts of the Romanian Carpathians the bear density is approximately 1 bear in every 10 km2. Bears are real opportunists and never miss a chance to grab an easy meal - Garbage dumps are fast-food restaurants for bears. However rubbish is bad for bears they it entices them to come very close to humans, even into cities. This is an undesirable and dangerous situation, but relatively easy to solve through responsible waste management. Bears that are habituated to this behaviour are hard to convince to do otherwise.

The wolves can also induce conflict, but they are mostly found around the shepherds camps. In the warm seasons the shepherds and their flocks remain in the pastures day and night. They take their belongings with them and roam the mountain meadows, sleeping in their shepherd camps and milking their cattle and making cheese in the field. During this period there are regular attacks on livestock by wolves, and occasionally bears sometimes too, though Lynx attacks are very rare because of their timid nature. To protect their flock shepherds try to chase attackers away with of noise, flares and with dogs, but most shepherds do not have good dogs, unfortunately.

Carpathian Shepherd dogs are used to deter the
large predators from taking sheep and other
Livestock. Courtesy of Muskwa
Carpathian Shepherd dogs

A number of good dogs can almost completely take away the predation problem. Shepherd dogs such as the Ciobanesc Românesc Carpatin (Carpathian Shepherd dog), are very well suited for this task. The large predators often return to hunting their natural prey as they do not want to risk injury by confronting these dogs.

Respect for large predators
There is a lot of respect among most of the traditional shepherds regarding predators. They recognize the important role these animals play in nature and they know that they belong in this area. The biodiversity and richness in edible plants are directly dependent on the predator's presence. In Romania bears are sometimes called Podoaba padurii, which means: treasure of the forest.

Bears are an umbrella and indicator species: the Ambassador of its habitat. Wolves and lynx are keystone species, the cornerstone of their ecosystem. In the ecosystem where they live they have a major role, helping other plant and animal species to thrive.

17 National parks
In Romania predators are protected species, as the EU (habitat directive) prescribes. There are 17 National Parks in Romania, but the onset of economic crisis (in Romania only since mid-2009 really felt) they are in great danger. Nature is usually a non-profit event and in economic crisis nature conservation has low priorities.

It is our duty to continue to contribute to the well-being of the European wilderness. Much is possible with good international cooperation. Together we can maintain the Carpathians reputation of true wilderness!
Muskwa Wild ©