Rewilding Bulgarian grazers

6 – 05 - 2013

Rewilding of grazers is a practice not only seen in Western Europe, but for example also within the Bulgarian Rhodopian mountains. Rhodopian shorthorn cattle and karakachan and konik horses are being rewilded to contribute to a rich mosaic landscape. Rewilding of animals here is different from previous experience, for example within the Netherlands; there are differences in climatic conditions, animals have to deal with wolves and bears and the social and economic situation differs.

The herds of shorthorn cattle have grown over the past years and can now be found on several locations. By law these animals are still reckoned as domestic animals which obliges us to keep track of them. Grazing grounds here aren’t fenced which causes animals to migrate freely. Among the bulls several individual animals appear to be lost. This may be the result of several reasons; bulls are being predated by wolves or bears, animals are being poached, bulls have joined other privately owned herds or the animals are simply being missed, not been seen. Last cause might sound unlikely, but isn’t. Recently two bulls reappeared after not been seen for six months in a row. Bulls are known to wander off if at the site of origin they are not supreme.

Grazing with feral horses is relatively new in Bulgaria. Last year a herd of konik horses have been brought to the Rhodopian mountains, which are locally known as tarpans. Before karakachan horse were released. Releasing horses happens from temporarily enclosures. By locking the animals they stay out of reach of wolves for the first few months. During this time they adept to local climatic conditions. Wolves visit but can’t get into direct contact. Later fences are taken down and the animals now quickly learn to defend themselves against predators. By locking the animals at first they have grown attached to the local site which makes it less likely that they wander of over longer distances and outside the few of local managers.

Next autumn a new harem of konik horse will be brought to the area, preparations have already started. During the first month after arrival they will live in a small enclosure, which afterwards will be enlarged for the remaining first year. Actual release will be one year after arrival. To adept to local food sources the animals will be supplementary fed during their first winter.