We work to save and help thrive endangered wildlife.
We work to save and help thrive endangered wildlife.
Wildlife populations in large parts of the Făgăraș Mountains have suffered severely from poaching and overhunting throughout the last twenty years. Where once big herds of chamois or red deer roamed the peaks and forests, only scattered individuals are still around. Official numbers are often overestimated or deliberately exaggerated to achieve higher hunting quotas.
The CARPATHIA project has set up its own hunters association with the aim? to purchase hunting rights in the project area by auction, and to consequently fully protect the wildlife. Since the end of 2011, the project has controlled hunting area No. 21 “Dâmbovița Headwaters” and has installed intensive anti-poaching measures and modern monitoring systems. We are currently trying to get control over additional hunting areas with the goal of creating a hunting free area of over 50,000 ha. In 2017, a second hunting concession No. 22 “Rucăr” was leased to protect wildlife. Sătic and Rucăr villages are within this hunting concession, and consequently a strong focus was put on mitigating wildlife-human conflicts.
In order to get acceptance for wildlife throughout the local communities, we must make sure that unavoidable conflicts of wildlife and humans remain beneath a critical level. Carnivore can kill livestock and wild boar can dig up whole meadows and gardens of local farmers. It is obvious that local communities suffer from such situations and as the responsible organisation for wildlife management in the area we must make sure that we avoid these problems as much as possible.
Our utmost priority is to avoid conflicts from the beginning. For this reason, we equip local livestock owners with electric fences, initiated a breeding programme for the “Carpatin” livestock guarding dogs (Carpathian Shepherd Dogs), which are an efficient tool in defending livestock against carnivores. We are currently setting up two rapid response teams of our rangers together with the regional Gendarmerie, which are trained and equipped to resolve such wildlife-human conflicts in a quick and professional way.
We are also going to introduce a totally new concept of in-kind compensation for livestock damage due to carnivores by creating a joint venture with a local livestock breeder, who will take care of 20 cows and 100 sheep under the ownership of FCC, which will then be used to immediately replace killed livestock. At the moment, the affected livestock breeder has to call a local commission, who will analyse the cause and write a report. Whilst this report is being prepared by the Ministry a year or two might elapse, or the livestock owner may never hear from the public sector.
Whilst the Carpathian fauna is almost complete, bison are still missing in the Făgăraș Mountains and beavers are only present on the north side and not on the south side of the mountains. In order to fully restore the Carpathian ecosystem, FCC has undertaken to reintroduce bison and beavers to the Făgăraș Mountains. We have carried out a feasibility study for bison, have secured funding for it, and will start the procedure to get the necessary permits in 2019.
Repeated estimates of wildlife population sizes are vital in order to determine if a population is increasing, decreasing, or stable. However, counting or obtaining reliable estimates of both ungulates and carnivore populations is extremely difficult as most of the forest species are elusive or rare.
While many commonly-used techniques are either totally unreliable, or rely on capturing, marking, and fitting of a transmitter to an animal, it is CARPATHIA philosophy to use only non-invasive methods, without disturbance to the normal behaviour, ecology or physiology of the animal.
Basically, we work with three categories of field methods: wildlife tracking, genetic sample collection, and, in the future, remote camera traps:
Wildlife snow tracking
Interpreting the indirect evidence (tracks and other signs) left behind by wildlife continues to be a valuable skill in the modern field of wildlife research and management. Besides species identification, tracks can be used to help determine home range, habitat use, and numbers of animals in a group. However, this method only works if there is a sufficient amount of snow for an extended winter season and if the rangers are able to follow the tracks for a longer period of time. Excrements, in addition, deliver insight into diet and feeding habits and a thorough investigation of carcasses often allows determination of the predator.
Our rangers are all equipped with GPS receivers that allow fast data entry, so we can continually record incidental wildlife signs. Being easier to spot, we monitor chamois also by direct observations on a foot transect along the alpine areas, surveyed several times a year.
Recently, non-invasive sampling of DNA has allowed genetic studies of free-ranging animals without catching or disturbing them. Besides individual identification, pedigree reconstruction, and sex identification, micro-satellite genotyping provides estimates of census and effective population size based on traditional ‘capture-mark-recapture’ methods. The underlying assumption is that the proportion of ‘marked’ individuals that are ‘recaptured’ is equal to its proportion in the entire population. Here, each genetic fingerprint is treated as a ‘mark’ and a ‘recapture’ is recorded whenever an identical genotype is found. This method provides the best and most robust statistical estimate of population size. We used this technique during a pilot study for bears, red deer, and wolves in FCC’s hunting ground “Izvorul Dâmboviței” (or “Dâmbovița Headwaters”).
Remote camera traps
Camera traps are especially useful in identifying individuals of lynx, where every animal has a specific fur pattern. We started to use camera traps in the winter of 2017/18 and have been successful in identifying about a dozen different individuals in our monitoring area.
To get a good and reliable estimate on the current population sizes of key species, we have combined the use of genetic analysis of scat and hair samples, the use of camera traps, and traditional sign surveys such as snow-tracking or den counts.
In addition to protecting what is present, FCC is also committed to bringing back what has been lost: The European bison should soon be a part of the native fauna again, we are currently preparing the grounds for reintroduction of these mighty herbivores.