”Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation” was established through the transformation of the former ”New Thracian Gold – Bulgaria Foundation” (NTG), using efficiently the resources to continue conservation work in the area. This entity is governing the initiative from Bulgaria.
In 2015 financial support to the Rhodope Mountains by Fondation Segré started for the period 2015-19.
A LIFE Nature proposal (Life Vultures RE) was approved by European Commission for recovery of black and griffon vulture populations, including restoration of natural prey densities (fallow deer and red deer), during the period 2016-19.
In 2016 LIFE project ‘RE-Vultures’ officially started on the recovery of transborder black and griffon vulture populations, with five conservation partners in Bulgaria and Greece.
In 2016 five-year partnership agreement signed with the board of Rewilding Rhodopes on the development of the Rhodope Mountains as a major rewilding initiative.
Following the successful reintroductions of native large herbivores carried out by NTG between 2009 and 2014, Rewilding Rhodopes has continued the restocking of red deer and fallow deer. Agreements have been signed with two hunting associations (in Chernoochene and Tintyava areas) and by April 2016 150 fallow deer have been captured and transported to an enclosure, and finally been released into the wild. Under the same agreements, 34 red deer have been reintroduced to Tintyava area.
Another activity has been the continuation of building up wild horse herds, with both Konik and Karakachan breeds. In April 2016 there are more than 120 horses grazing in five different sites.
NTG also started in 2012 a grazing experiment with European bison. The pair living in Studen Kladenetz breeding enclosure bred in 2015 and the number of individuals in this incipient herd is three. It is foreseen to exchange individuals with other Bulgarian sites and increase the herd.
Through wildlife cameras, translocated animals to Studen Kladenetz reserve are being monitored, monitoring at the same time the activity of many other wildlife species.
In 2016 and 2017 more than 100 fallow deer released at three different sites, to restore natural grazing and food chains; five individuals fitted with GPS/GSM radio-collars.
Reintroduced red deer population of Studen Kladenetz continues to grow, now totalling 20–25 individuals.
Griffon vulture population steadily increasing, with 80 breeding pairs in 2016.
A group of 13 volunteers guarded 10 Egyptian vulture nests – the birds were provided with additional food to decrease the risk of poisoning; 21 pairs bred in the Rhodope Mountains, two more than in 2015.
In 2016 three and in 2017 four artificial nests for Black vultures were installed in the Krumovitsa Special Protection Area, situated along the main flying corridor of the species to Bulgaria.
11 Black vultures were fitted with satellite transmitters in Dadia National Park (Greece) in 2016 and 5 more in November 2017.
Two new herds of Karakachan horses were established, one in a new location; the total number of wild-living horses is now 72 Karakachan and 71 konik horses.
An anti-poisoning dog unit was established for the first time in Bulgaria.
Awareness and training seminar on poisoning and wildlife crime for police, forestry and other authorities held in Krumovgrad.
The Rhodope Mountains rewilding area welcomed two more European bison in October 2017. The animals were donated by Suhl Zoo in Germany. There are now six bison in the Rhodopes.
Three hides for wildlife photography tourism were developed by NTG and are now operational, in the Studen Kladenets Game Reserve, and in the villages of Kostilkovo and Gorno Pole.
We are exploring the possible co-management of the Studen Kladenets reserve as a pilot for rewilding, in partnership with the Bulgarian Hunting Union.
In 2016 first training seminar on wildlife watching enterprise and wildlife photography was held in Madzharovo.
In March 2017 week more than 30 participants took part in a second nature and vulture-related tourism development training session in the Eastern Rhodopes, organised by Rewilding Rhodopes and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds.
Contracts for repairing two wildlife photography hides (vultures, carnivores) signed with local entrepreneurs in 2016, hides were finalized in 2017.
A nature travel map was published over the Eastern Rhodopes, a nature travel guide book about the area was produced together with the Crossbill guidebook(covering the mountains both in Bulgaria and in Greece) and a Trans-Rhodope bike & hike tourist map was published – all to promote the area as a top quality wilderness destination.
Rewilding Rhodopes has an active Facebook page and the Life-Vultures project will have a specific website active soon.
Rewilding Europe, together with Dutch NGO Ark Nature, launched the Circle of Life – a new way of supporting Europe’s scavengers, including vultures – on the International Vulture Awareness Day in September 2017. The publication was promoted in the town of Madzharov with more then 40 people participating in various educational and art activities.
Installed in an exhibition area in front of Sofia’s National Theatre, Lords of the Rhodopean Skies exhibition officially opened on May 17. The opening, attended by the LIFE Vultures team, official guests and crowds of visitors, was designed to mark the 25thanniversary of the EU’s Habitats Directive and LIFE Programme.
The Black Vultures Nature Camp, called Kartali 2016 Camp (Bulgarian word for black vulture), took place in the Studen Kladenets nature reserve in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area. The 5-day long camp gathered more than 50 students and nature lovers from all over Bulgaria.
In May 2017 second Kartali Nature Camp With the slogan “Become an explorer”, inspired more than 60 people to explore the dramatic beauty of Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains, and to learn more about the local LIFE Vultures Project.
In October 2017 an exhibition titled “Lords of the Rhodopean Skies” took place at the Regional History Museum of the town of Kardzhali in southern Bulgaria.
Rhodope Mountains rewilding area was promoted in many national and foreign press and magazines including Radio and TV shows
Short documentary film about LIFE Vultures project filmed in 2017 and will be released in early 2018.