Wolf viewing

Wolf viewing

View from the Wolf hide

After a several years of preparation (in fact trying and dreaming) we are now about to launch tours for observing wolves in Bulgaria. The Wolf is probably the most enigmatic, mythical and difficult to see animal in Europe. Centuries of persecution have not only reduced the population size but have made the wolves incredible worry and shy creatures. This combined with their amazing abilities to smell and hear, plus the fact that they are intelligent and clever results in being very difficult, almost impossible to see a wolf in the wild.

There are about 1000 wolves in Bulgaria (in the spring) and about less than 300 are shot every year. The population is stable and even increasing but the attitude towards the wolves is not positive at all. I have tried many times during the last several years to convince the rangers and the hunters where we go to for our bear watching tours to stop shooting wolves and try the ecotourism but I must admit I wasn’t very successful.

More than a year ago, a friend of mine told me about a man that have killed 7 wolves during the last 6 years. The idea was to use his hide from where he was baiting and killing the wolves for bird photography as the baits were also attracting Golden eagles, Ravens, possibly buzzards, foxes and even a Wild Cat. Not that we are in shortage of hides for Golden Eagles photography – in fact that is one of our specialty. But using his hide we would of course pay for it and this way he can generate some income and really benefit from the eco tourism, instead of the hunting. Who knows maybe one day he would consider stop shooting wolves – this was our sole idea! However, the plan was not to mention this on the first meeting. We met in a sunny day in October 2011 and to be honest I had no real expectations.  I was quite sceptical as I have talked with many people trying to change their attitude towards wolves but pretty unsuccessful. In fact I found it hopeless.

The man (43 years old) was energetic and intelligent person and we drove to his hide to see it. In fact, the whole area I know very well. Despite the plan, we went pretty straight to ’’catch the bull for the horns’’ as we say in Bulgaria. I am very open person and normally say what I think, he was the same and very soon cards were on the table. Are you ready to stop shooting wolves and try with the eco tourism? – I asked him. Yes, was his answer.  He really was I think, not because of the eco tourism, as he never taught that there are people ready to travel from the other end of the continent to see a Wolf. But he was ready to stop killing them! After so many years of persecution and more or less close contact with the wolves he has developed a respect to their nature and character. Additionally the last Wolf he had killed was not a pleasant experience at all for him and made him start thinking he is doing terrible things. I got quite excited and we have talked on his experience with the Wolves and also discussed the possibilities to reach reliable observation rate from his hide.

I have returned few weeks later to spend a night in the hide and I saw my first wolf ever from the first attempt here.

During the next months he has continued to put baits (dead livestock) and at the beginning of March he managed to take a fantastic video of 3 wolves playing and howling in 10 a.m, in bright sunshine! For Bulgaria, and pretty much for Europe it is a very unusual sight. For the whole spring at least one wolf was visiting the bait nearly every second or third night. During the summer he has upgraded the hide and kept baiting. At the very beginning of November one wolf appeared again.

I have been there recently to see the upgraded hide and talk in details how we will proceed. We have agreed that in December and January we will try to monitor the wolves’ behaviour by spending more nights in the hide and trying to read the wolves’ tracks to find out how often the wolves will be visiting the baits and at which time. 
If all prove successful and the hunting season ends well – which means no wolves killed by other hunters in the area, at the end of January we plan to start with the Wolf observation tours. March and April are in any case probably the best months for it.

I do believe eco tourism can be the most powerful tool, if not the only one, to change negative attitude of the hunters and livestock owners towards the wolves.