Achievements to date
Southern Carpathians became active as a rewilding area in late 2012
There has been intense engagement with the local stakeholders, authorities and communities over the last few years, to introduce the concept of rewilding and create support for the initiative in the region. All the work in this area concentrated on the preparations to start building up a free-roaming population of European bison in the Tarcu Mountains Natura 2000 area. 28 bison now roam in the area.
- The rewilding area is part of the (larger) ”South Western Carpathians Wilderness Area project”, run by WWF Romania and covering 11 protected areas in total, plus some surrounding land inbetween. In 2013, that project received a large grant from the Swiss Cohesion Funds, so there is good scope for further expansion over time also for the rewilding activities.
- During this first year, the Southern Carpathians team has concentrated a lot on creating a support base for the rewilding concept in the area, through a series of meetings with local people, and meeting local and central decision makers, other stakeholders and carrying out feasibility studies, GIS mapping and planning.
- May 17, 2014 was the day when the release took place of the first groups of animals: 17 European bison were brought into a pre-release site in the Municipality of Armeniş, which has set aside a large part of their communal land for wildlife. The animals came from wildlife parks and breeding stations across Europe – from Sweden in the north to central Italy – in a complicated logistical operation, arranged by Rewilding Europe and its partner WWF-Romania. The bison that were brought in two big trucks came from sources in several European countries: Avesta Visentpark and Kolmårdens Djurpark in Sweden, Springe, Hardehausen and Hirschfeld Zoos in Germany, Parco Natura in Italy, Han-sur- in Belgium and Hateg in Romania.
- The Dutch Postcode Lottery, The Swedish Postcode Lottery and Liberty Wildlife Fund provided the financial support, which made this amazing bison reintroduction in the Southern Carpathians possible. The Municipality of Armeniş, where the animals were released, has been instrumental and is extremely supportive. Five different (local, regional and state) authorities in Romania provided support and the legal permission needed for the release.
- A set of draft guidelines have been developed and submitted to the Romanian government about management of forest reserve areas that become affected by bark beetle outbreaks, seeing it as a key natural process and suggesting a non-intervention policy for it.
- Potential boundaries and zoning (core, buffer & transition areas) of key wilderness areas identified and mapped (GIS) within the larger rewilding area. The first core rewilding area has been defined, centred in the Tarcu Mountains Natura 2000 site.
- Managers of hunting areas, game and forest managers have been approached about starting up non-intervention management measures (e.g. creation of no-take zones when it comes to hunting). The first no-take zone will be created in Armenis municipality, related to the bison reintroduction.
- A “Technical Wilderness Group” has been established, with the directors and biologists of several Protected Areas from the South-Western Carpathians Wilderness Area, and discussions held about how to realise this large area.
- An inventory and verification of pristine forests areas has been carried out in the Tarcu Mountains Natura 2000 area, and a request has been made to the relevant decisionmakers for its rapid protection.
- A feasibility study on the re-introduction of European bison has been carried out, with the most suitable area identified and agreed for re-introduction in the Tarcu Mountain Natura 2000 site.
- After an agreement was reached with the Armenis municipality to start bison reintroductions on their communal land, the first group of 17 bison have been transported into the area in the spring of 2014.
- With this first release, a completely new bison population is being established in an area that within ten years is planned to have a population of about at least 300 animals.
- A first-born calf, discovered in the herd on 30 June 2014, unfortunately died due to an injury from an adult animal. Also, we lost three adults during the subsequent months; two of them were proven to have blue tongue as the cause of death.
- Due to this, we decided not to do a second release in 2014, and also not to as yet release the herd into the wild before wintertime. So we kept all animals in the pre-release area, and provided additional feeding.
- During winter, the animals improved their condition and no further casualties occurred. Wolf tracks were found in the pre-release area.
- The second release on June 12–13, 2015 brought the total number of bison in the area to 28.
- Locally hired people have been trained to take the role of bison rangers and the first bison guides. From the very beginning, even at a start in the acclimatisation and re-wilding zones, the bison have already begun to serve as an important regional tourist attraction, to help bring business opportunities and jobs to the local community. Two local bison rangers were contracted, providing the first jobs for local villagers.
- Different tour operators, tour enterprises and local guesthouses were identified and contacted regarding the opportunity to develop a wildlife tourism initiative in the Tarcu Mountains. The first initiatives will be connected with the bison reintroduction.
- A Bison Visitor Centre has been established, from which several bison and nature related activities are organised, such as bison safaris.
- Other relevant non-tourism businesses that could be supported by the initiative were identified in the area.
- We have been working with tour operators to help develop itineraries for tourists to visit the area and see the bison, as well as other interesting features in the Southern Carpathians rewilding area.
- A series of stakeholder meetings have been held in the relevant villages and with local and central authorities.
- More than 250 people gathered from far afield to take part in the bison release event on 17 May 2014. Guests included the Deputy Minister of Environment, leaders from the state forestry company ROMSILVA, from hunting organisations and from the media across the globe. Local people from Armeniş village, led by their village priest and their Mayor Petru Vela, joined them.
- A lot of information and education materials have been developed to inform people about the bison, such as information panels and leaflets to inform local people on how to live with the bison in the area.
- The bison reintroduction generated a huge media outreach, most intense in the Romanian media itself but also in numerous other countries in Europe and beyond.