Dinaricum | Dinaric Mountains
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Dinaric Mountains

... the mountains of the western Balkan Peninsula

Dinaric Mountains are a young, folded mountain chain in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula running from Tolmin area where they border on Alps, running along the Adriatic sea and spanning to the Prokletije in Kosovo and Albania.

Some of the Northern part of Dinaric Mountains is a large and merged area of preserved nature with unique conservation value. Wider area of Snežnik form, together with Gorski Kotar in Croatia, the biggest continuous forest complex in Central Europe. Most of the area is covered by fir-beech forest (Omphalodo-Fagetum) in which four tree species dominate; beech (Fagus sylvatica), fir (Abies alba), spruce (Picea abies) and sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus).

Wider area of Snežnik form, together with Gorski Kotar in Croatia, the biggest continuous forest complex in Central Europe.

In Pleistocene glaciation many of glaciating shelters were formed in Dinaric Mountains which represented shelters to many animal and plant species. Folding direction of mountain chain from northwest to southeast enabled them to retreat to the south in the time of ice cover spreading, glaciation and stadial and to return back to the north in the time of climate warming (interglacial, interstadial). Warm glacial shelters, called refugia, represented microclimatic islands from where species were able to last during the glacial period and spread faster to surrounding areas after the climate warming period. This enabled many species to radiate and form new forms, subspecies and species, making this part of Europe a biodiversity hot spot with a large number of endemic species.

Human footprint in this area is relatively small due to terrain inaccessibility, rare population density and difficult farming conditions. According to low human impact, vast forest complex with preserved in their more or less original form. Even today, they offer shelter to numerous European endangered animal and plant species.

It is one of rare European areas, where three European large carnivores still coexist, Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), brown bear (Ursus arctos) and gray wolf (Canis lupus). In the last few years, we were able to record signs of presence of the golden jackal (Canis aureus).

Small carnivores living in the area are fox (Vulpes vulpes), wildcat (Felis silvestris), otter (Lutra lutra), stoat (Mustela erminea), least weasel (Mustela nivalis), polecat (Mustela putorious), pine marten (Martes martes), beech marten (Martes foina) and badger (Meles meles).

Dinarid forests offer plenty of opportunities to see or hear many rare bird species, such as white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopus leucotos) and red-breasted flycatcher (Fiscedula parva). Large proportion of Dinaric Mountains in Slovenia are included into Natura 2000 network with important species as barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus), boreal owl (Aegolius funereus), hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia), grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus), jersey tiger (Callimorpha quadripunctaria), rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina) and numerous endemic species of cave dwelling fauna, which is one of the richest on Earth.

Picture 1: Natura 2000 network

  • They live solitary lives
  • Territories are  Velikost domačega okoliša je cca 200-300 km2
  • Pleni predvsem srnjad
  • V Slovenijo ponovno naseljen v sedemdesetih letih 20. stoletja
  • Zaradi parjenja v sorodstvu je populacija ogrožena
  • Po nekaterih ocenah jih živi v Sloveniji le še okoli 15

The One About a Lynx and a Man

Solitary and hidden way of life makes lynx a mystical animal. It is generally less known to the public, especially compared to wolves and bears. Most of the misinformation about lynx is mostly because of lack of knowledge about its biology. Myths portray lynx as a blood thirsty beast living in trees, killing pray for small chunks of meat. But nothing could be further from the truth. Lynx is a predator, which kills by biting its pray in the neck (“drinking blood”). Since it can’t consume its whole prey at a time, it returns to feast on the same carcass for days. False tree living culture was assumed during lynx hunts, when the animal would dash to trees to escape hunting dogs. More about false stories about lynxes you can find in article of our members in Slovenian magazine Lovec (in Slovenian).

Fortunately for lynx, public opinion about it is relatively good, compared to wolves or bears, as its behavior is perceived as less problematic. It does relatively little damage to livestock and there are no known cases of the animal attacking a human. It enjoyed the status of a protected species in most of European countries. Some countries allow a take of restricted number of animals, whereas in some parts, poaching represents the main threat to the livelihood.

The One About Lynx and Its Role in The Ecosystem

Lynx is the biggest cat inhabiting European forests. Northern populations can have animals weighing up to 35 kg. Animals in Slovenia weigh around 20 kg. Except females with offsprings, lynxes are solitary animals defending their territory. Territories of males are intersected with territories of (several) females, but the territories of the same sex exclude themselves. Slovenian lynx males home range is about 200 to 300 km2, whereas female home range is smaller. In areas where food is scarcer (in the north), home ranges exceed 1000 km2.

All our three species of large carnivores can be found in Dinaric forest ecosystem where they represent keystone species (important species for the proper functioning of the ecosystem). Similarly as wolves and bears, lynxes are also at the top of the food chain and impact their pray, especially roe deer. They catch about 50 roe deer size ungulates a year but will also settle for smaller animals. By hunting selectively they influence natural selection and behavior of ungulates. Large numbers of ungulates could have negative impact on vegetation cover and cause considerable damage on the economic efficiency of the forests, but a healthy population of lynxes can alleviate this by influencing ungulate numbers and especially behavior. Carcasses left by lynx have an important role in the forest ecosystem, supplying the entire food chain below. Animals such as foxes, bears, martens, some species of birds and invertebrates often find them as important food source. Lynx is a part of biodiversity and is irreplaceable as its key elemet for normal functioning of forest ecosystems.

The One About Lynx in Slovenia Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Eurasian lynx is our autochthonous species which has lived in the area of today’s Slovenia for at least 40.000 years but has disappeared from our forests at least once in the past. Recorded extinction was between 19th and 20th century due to hunting, lack of natural prey and insufficient continuous forest cover.

In 1973, Slovenian hunters reintroduced three pairs of lynx from Slovakia (probably genetically closest to the extinct population). Animals were kept in quarantine for 46 days to ensure they would be healthy upon release. After released in Kočevski Rog, offspring was spotted the same year indicating successful start. Animals soon spread to Croatia, after some years also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy and Austria.

In the end of 1980s and in 1990s, the growth and spreading of the lynx population has declined and stopped. The last ten years have been the worst for lynx in Slovenia, with their number dwindling to what is estimated to over little over a dozen. In the last few years the reproduction was confirmed only in Javorniki and Snežnik area. In 2011, a female dubbed “Maja” was radiocollared near Kočevje. In spring of 2012 a litter of cubs was found. She was found dead about a month after giving birth. Cause of death was probably pneumonia. In January of 2014 a female with offspring was photographed in Goteniška gora near Kočevje, confirming reproduction in this area after years.

Lynx has enjoyed the status of a fully protected species since 1993. Because only six individuals were reintroduced, high inbreeding was inevitable. That lead to lower ability to survive and lower reproduction success of the offsprings, and to further decrease of population size. If nothing is done, the population will probably go extinct once again. Inbreeding is made worse with poaching and fragmentation of habitat. Having favorable opinion of lynx presence from all interested stakeholders (hunters, livestock breeders, mushroom collectors and other people who may come into contact) is the only way we can ensure successful reintroduction and a healthy population in the long run.

  • They live in families referred as packs
  • They are strict carnivores
  • Pups are born in April
  • They avoid people
  • The size of a territory in Slovenia is about 350 km2

The One About a Wolf and a Man

Wolves have always played a special place in human culture, as our companions or competitors. Their social structure, hunting, territoriality and great ability to adapt to new or changing environments have contributed to their current status in human culture as beats to be admired or feared.

Despite sometimes their ferocious reputation and stylized depiction in literature, there is little evidence that wolves are dangerous to humans, especially in Europe.

The One About Wolves and Their Role in the Ecosystem

Wolves are largest members of the canid family. In Southern Europe adults weigh around 40 kg. They are strict carnivores and they sit on top of the food chain. Wolves live in families referred to as packs. Alpha male and female (parents) raise pups who disperse after a few years of living in the pack. Living in packs offers wolves many advantages when it comes to hunting, rearing offspring and defending precious territory rights. Average area controlled by one wolf pack in Slovenia is approximately 350 km2. For comparison, municipality of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, roughly covers the area of 160 km2.

Their role in the ecosystem ranges from influencing prey density, prey behavior, natural selection, stimulation of reproduction of prey, production of carrion that can be used by scavengers etc. In this way wolves directly and indirectly affect the food chain and interactions between species which are called ecological cascades. In European temperate forests, wolves and lynxes represent main predators of ungulates.

The One About Wolves in Slovenia Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The last 150 years have been turbulent for wolves in northern Dinaric Alps. They have been decimated three times due to high hunting pressure from mid 18th century until after era after World War II when population size is estimated was around 50. Wolves were never totally extirpated from the area.

Wolves in Slovenia represent the most northern part of Dinaric-Balkan population which expands from Northern Italy to Greece in the south and Bulgaria in the east. Slovenian population is also a link between Dinaric population and population in Apennines that is expanding into eastern Alps. Thus the population status in Slovenia is important also for the natural recolonization of the Alps. During the monitoring of a male wolf named Slavc, we were able to record his journey of approximately 1000 km from Slavnik (south-western Slovenia) to Lessinia (northern Italy) where he settled down with a female dubbed Juliette from Apennine population.

Conservation of wolves is, despite their relatively large numbers, still tricky business. They inhabit ecologically, culturally, politically and economically diverse habitats and regions. Their protection status and prey base management varies between regions, introducing numerous additional challenges in wolf conservation and management. For best result, interdisciplinary and transboundary approaches are mandatory.

Wolves in Slovenia enjoy full protection status. In addition to Regulation of protecting wolves, they are mentioned in Bern convention, Habitat directive, Washington convention and Red list.

Biggest challenge to conservation and management of this small wolf population in Slovenia is damages they inflict on livestock (mostly sheep) if extirpation can be perceived as a relief measure. During the SloWolf project, we were able to show examples of good practices for protecting livestock with encouraging results.

Due to complex social structure, large habitat requirements and high potential for conflict with stakeholders, management grows increasing complex. Large uninhabited areas in Slovenia are not available for animals (wolves require about 350 km2 per pack) to live undisturbed, requiring people and wolves to coexist if long term survival of wolves is to be achieved. High tolerance of people towards wolves is required to ensure long term survival of the species.

More about wolves and SloWolf project on www.volkovi.si/en and in the video below.

  • They live solitary lives
  • They are omnivores (mostly food of plant origin)
  • They avoid people
  • They have a keen hearing and smell
  • They come into settlements for easy accessible food

The One About a Bear and a Man

Our biggest representative of large carnivores is important element of natural and cultural heritage, not only in Slovenia, but also around the world. The numbers of bears drastically decreased in the end of the 19th century in most of the Middle and South Europe, in some areas were even extinct. Today attitude towards this big carnivore is changing. Nowadays lots of effort throughout different parts of Europe is directed in conservation of bear populations: in Italian and Austrian parts of Alps, in Pyrenees in France, in central part of Apennines in Abruzzzi region, in Spanish Cantabria and in Pindos and Rhodope in Greece.

Generally brown bear is shy animal, which usually avoids encounters with humans. It never atacks man for food, only when the bear feels endangered. But they often cause damage on domestic animals and some objects (bee houses). From this point of view the human-bear conflicts are common, especially where bears in past were extinct and nowadays they are returning to these areas. The problem is that people there have forgotten how to coexist with bears. Therefore in those areas people often unjustly appeal on authorities to remove »problematic« bears, but the problem is usually in inappropriate protection of farmland animals etc. and not in bears.

 

The One About Bears and Their Role in The Ecosystem

Bears are mostly solitary animals. They usually avoid each other, especially adults, except in the mating time. As most of the other large carnivores bears have also big home ranges and low population densities.

Bear is opportunistic omnivore. It characteristically picks food with highest energy value that is located in the moment in the environment. Most of the bear food is herbal (beechnut, acorn, chestnut, hazelnut, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, wild garlic etc.), so they have important role to spread seeds with their feces. Food with high protein value represent insects (ants, bees, wasps, some species of beetles – xylophagus beetles, Cetoniidae, Curculionidae …) and their pupae. As scavengers they act »sanitary«, because they »clean« carcasses of dead animals from environment (e.g. after harsh winter or sick animals) and (similarly as wolves and lynxes) they lower the possibilities of spreading infectious diseases in forest ecosystems.

Similarly as wolf and lynx bear is umbrella species, which means that as we protect populations of bears, we protect and conserve their habitat, which is in the same time home to multiple other animal and plant species. A lot of those species are much more unnoticeable and as charismatic as our large carnivores. With their »help« we can easier achieve and implement conservation aims to protect environment and species that live there.

The One About Bears in Slovenia Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

As mentioned, bear was also as lynx and wolf in 17th, 18th and 19th century extinct in most parts of Europe because people have have haunted it in all kinds of ways. In wider area of Dinaric Apls have bears until today existed and that is because there is suitable habitat for them – wide consistent forests on diverse and broad terrain of high Karst. But also people accept bears there because they have lived with them for centuries.

Slovenian bears are part of the Alpine – Dinaric – Pindos population, which includes area from Eastern Alps in Austria and North-Eastern Italia and all the way to the mountain chain Pindos in Greece. As most Western part of the dense Dinaric population Slovenian bears represent important source for natural recolonisation of Alps. The environmental conditions where bears live in Slovenia are very much alike the other areas throughout Middle and South Europe. That is why strategy for bear management in Slovenia is important also for other European countries.

Due to wide spatial demands (home ranges can be up to 1500 km2 and more), opportunistic omnivorous feeding nature, high mobility and obvious tolerance towards people is bear classified between vulnerable species. From year 1993 bear is listed on red list of threatened species in Slovenia and is also protected with numerous other international conventions as e.g. Bern convention.

In human dominated landscapes as in Slovenia and conflicts  that arise due to depredation of domestic animals conservation and management of large carnivores is very difficult and complex task. One of the most important things for their existence is definitely the tolerance of people that live with them.

 

More about bears and research on bears in Slovenia you can read on www.medvedi.si (in Slovenian).

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