On 17 May 2014, Europe’s largest living land mammal, the European bison (Bison bonasus), was reintroduced to the Tarcu Mountains in Romania’s Southern Carpathians, after a 200 year absence.
After reaching extinction here two centuries ago, 20 animals were brought from various European countries in the largest reintroduction of bison ever to take place in Europe. The ultimate goal is to build a herd at least 500-strong living in total freedom by 2025, in an area spanning 1.4 million hectares of wild mountain and valley in the southern part of the Carpathian chain. This weekend break allows you to witness the extraordinary story!
Using a completely new approach, Rewilding Europe and partner WWF-Romania initiated the reintroduction of bison to the Southern Carpathians. Other animals will be released at regular intervals at several pilot sites over a ten year period. Initially, the bison will be released into an acclimatisation zone, then progress to an adjoining larger zone that provides an opportunity for them to ‘re-wild’ i.e. learn the skills necessary for their survival, and form a social herd structure. In September 2014 the first bison will finally be released into the wild, and become the first to roam the 59,000-hectare Tarcu Mountains Natura 2000 Reserve since the 18th century.
Once in the wild they will not be fed, so will be quickly absorbed into the region’s natural ecosystem. This protected area will be managed by the natural grazing of the bison and other indigenous herbivores. For this reason Rewilding Europe plans to increase the numbers of other wildlife – in particular red and roe deer – and the existing presence of bears and wolves in the area could lead to the development of a predator-prey relationship that further restores the ecosystem.
Rewilding Europe is working to establish at least three new populations of at least 100 individuals in other suitable areas across the continent, and in 2015 plans to start a second release site in the region. Increasing the number of bison is important, not only for the survival of the species, but also for reasons of biodiversity, and the ecosystem will benefit from the impact of bison grazing. Last but not least, there must be sufficient bison and other wildlife to attract wildlife-watchers and allow a nature-based economy to develop, so the local community can benefit.
Also known as the wisent, the bison is a key species in the European ecosystem, playing an important role in biodiversity and the balance between forest and grassland habitats. In addition to being a flagship species for the re-establishment and subsequent protection of wilderness areas, the bison may also become an icon for regional economic development, as its presence will help to put the area on the map as one of Europe’s major wilderness areas, and a prime destination for wildlife watching.
Day1: Fly to Timisoara, Romania
On arrival you will be met by an English-speaking guide and transferred to simple accommodation in the village of Rusca beside the Tarcu Mountains Reserve, near the mountain town of Teregova. This evening a member of WWF-Romania will talk about the scope and aims of the project. Local guesthouse – 1-night on full board basis.
Day2: Tarcu Mountains Reserve – visit the bison enclosure and Bison Interpretation Centre
Morning walk to the bison enclosure at La Magura near the hamlet of Plopu, in the parallel valley of Raul Alb (White River) north of Rusca. There you will see the small herd of European bison that was reintroduced to the Southern Carpathians after an absence of more than 250 years, accompanied by an expert who will explain the various aspects of the project, and its importance. After lunch drive to the newly-built Bison Interpretation Centre to learn more about these former residents of the area, and the story of their reintroduction.
Later in the afternoon transfer to your next accommodation in the picturesque village of Armenis, whose guesthouses were established only recently to accommodate visitors who have come to see bison. Local guesthouse - 3-nights on full board basis.
Day3: Tarcu Mountains Reserve – bear watching from a forest hide
Early this morning you drive deep into the mountains to a former hunter’s hide, which has been converted for bear viewing, for an opportunity to see brown bear and learn about the forest’s other inhabitants. Sadly, bear hunting is still widespread in Romania, however this initiative hopes to gradually eradicate this ancient practice by proving to hunters that the bears are of greater value when alive, and by encouraging them to use their knowledge and experience to organise bear-watching activities, thereby generating employment and incomes in an area where these are otherwise limited. Due to the history of hunting, however, the bear population is still extremely shy and there is no guarantee of sightings. The best time to see them is in September and October, when they are feeding in preparation for winter. To reach the hide, you’ll need to walk some distance through the forest. Lunch will be provided, and in the afternoon you’ll return to the bison site before heading back to your accommodation.
Day4: Tarcu Mountains Reserve – visit Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park
This morning, accompanied by a local forester and your guide, you drive for approximately one hour to explore the virgin forest of Izvoarele National Park, where logging is not permitted. This scientific reserve, which covers approximately 5,000 hectares, is one of Europe’s largest remaining virgin forests. Occupying a 700-metre altitude gradient, the forest is dominated by beech trees with a scattering of silver firs, elms and sycamores – the trees are impressive, with some specimens reaching diameters of over one metre and heights of greater than 50 metres.
Many species of insects inhabit the reserve, along with birdlife that includes woodpeckers, owls hawks and eagles – all of which are protected. The population of small mammals (various types of mice etc.) varies according to the season, but is generally easy to see. Fox, wolf, and even bear are seen occasionally, preying on large herbivores such as red and roe deer. Afternoon return to your accommodation in time for dinner.
Day5: Transfer to Timisoara airport and fly to UK
Early this morning there may be time to return to the bison enclosure for a final time before breakfast – the best time of day to see them feeding. After breakfast you leave the Tarcu Mountains for the two-hour drive back to Timisoara International Airport.
Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 5 daysfrom £1,645 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 5 daysfrom £1,345 pp
When to go: May-Jun; Sep-Oct
A relatively unknown part of the Southern Carpathians, the Tarcu Mountains are a region of untouched landscape virtually devoid of permanent settlement. Its pristine ecosystems display remarkable biodiversity, and in 2014 witnessed the exciting reintroduction of the European bison.
Where: Southern Carpathians
Ideal for viewing: black woodpecker, European bison, roe deer, brown bear, red deer
Excellent for: Walking safaris, Walking with wildlife, Just Conservation, Bear watching