A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

Cornelia Doerr / Wild Wonders of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

Cornelia Dörr / Wild Wonders of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

Sandra Bartocha / Wild Wonders of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

Florian Möllers / Rewilding Europe

A wilderness arc at the heart of Europe

At the southern end of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, an initiative is underway to create one of Europe’s largest wilderness landscapes south of the Arctic Circle.

With a backbone of more than 1 million hectares of protected areas already in place, rich wildlife, large intact forests, a high concentration of biodiversity, relatively intact wild landscapes, wild rivers, and large areas of mosaic vegetation largely shaped by traditional farming and grazing practices, there is a unique opportunity to realise this vision.

The Carpathians host a rich variety of wildlife (wolf, Eurasian lynx, brown bear, wild cat, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, chamois and more). However, their numbers are still unnaturally low, partly due to the heavy hunting pressure in the past. The ongoing, large-scale abandonment of farmland is an opportunity for wildlife return and has created an urgent need for new economic opportunities in these traditional rural areas.

With the conservation measures and the rewilding work in the region underway, new economic opportunities will arise. This, in combination with a spectacularly beautiful landscape, with high mountains and caves as well as cultural attractions, the region has the potential to become a high-quality tourism destination for both domestic and foreign visitors.

Rewilding vision

For each rewilding area we developed an inspiring vision that shows our ambition for the next ten years. Together with our local partners we work to make this vision a reality.

What are we doing here?

Bringing bison back

European bison (or wisent) disappeared from Romania over 200 years ago. Since 2013, Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania have been working together to reintroduce this iconic species back to the Southern Carpathians rewilding area.

The first two bison releases took place in 2014 and 2015, followed by yearly bison releases from 2016 onwards. The major objective of this ongoing initiative is to create a demographically and genetically viable population in the Southern Carpathians, comprising free-roaming sub-populations in the Tarçu Mountains.

Bringing back the European bison supports the conservation of this keystone species, as laid out in the IUCN Species Action Plan. It is also part of a larger rewilding initiative in Romania, with Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania working together to create one of the largest contiguous wild areas in Europe. Extending across 3 million hectares, this would encompass various protected areas and give the bison space to take their place in a landscape governed by natural processes.

Growing community-based enterprises

The economic focus of rewilding efforts in the Tarçu Mountains involves supporting local enterprises and the development of a nature-based economy, with jobs and revenue connected to wild nature. The rewilding area is becoming increasingly well known for its dramatic scenery and unique wildlife experiences – especially bison and bear-watching. Bison watching and tracking experiences are already offered through the European Safari Company.

Raising the profile of the Southern Carpathians on the nature travel map allows a wide range of local businesses and regional products to benefit from rewilding activities, providing incentives for entrepreneurs to invest, and contributing to the attractiveness and brand value of the area. In a cycle of accelerating beneficial growth, this provides further opportunities for new businesses to flourish, positively impacting local communities.

Supporting future nature entrepreneurs

In and around the Southern Carpathians rewilding area the ongoing bison reintroduction is beginning to have a significant economic and social impact. A refurbished visitor centre in Armeniş now educates people on bison ecology and trophic chains and sells locally produced handicrafts and souvenirs. A refurbished wilderness cabin near Armeniş opened in 2017, with another cabin, two wildlife hides and a larger “hillock retreat” in the village of Plopu all in progress. Bison-based packages are marketed and sold through the European Safari Company.

An educational outreach programme is seeing many young Romanians, from elementary schools upwards, learn about the European bison and its role in nature, rewilding and nature photography. Prospective wildlife researchers now have a research station in the village of Feneș where they can advance their professional development and increase their knowledge by studying locally reintroduced bison. And the training of community members and local entrepreneurs is equipping them with the right skills to take advantage of the emerging nature-based economy.

Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania will continue to work together with current and future generations of Romanians to support natural processes and further bison reintroductions in the Southern Carpathians. The ongoing development of better infrastructure for rewilding, wildlife watching and research should ensure visitor numbers and economic benefits also continue to flourish.

“The local community should increasingly benefit from bison comeback”

Marina Druga

Marina Drugă

Team leader of Southern Carpathians

How would you characterise your rewilding area?
The largest wilderness stronghold in Europe, with high levels of biodiversity and ecological corridors on a large scale. It also has a unique culture and history. The reintroduced European bison is the main attraction here, along with other iconic species such as bear, wolf, lynx and large ungulates. This fantastic wildlife means that there is a unique opportunity to develop nature-based tourism and other nature-friendly enterprises.

What have the major achievements been in your rewilding area to date?
Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania have been reintroducing bison into the Southern Carpathians since 2014, and as part of the European Commission-funded LIFE Bison project since 2016. The total number of bison in the rewilding area had reached 54 by the end of 2019.

We are also growing a nature-based economy based on the bison reintroduction. Local people have been employed as bison guides and rangers, and our rewilding area is becoming increasingly well known as a wildlife tourism destination, with bison watching and tracking experiences offered through the European Safari Company. A refurbished visitor centre in Armeniș now educates people on bison ecology, while a refurbished wilderness cabin opened near Armeniș in 2017. We also have an educational outreach programme which has seen a growing number of Romanian schoolchildren learn about European bison and rewilding.

What would you like to see achieved in your rewilding area in the next five years?
I would like to see the establishment of a free-living, genetically and demographically viable sub-population of European bison in the Southwestern Carpathians. I would also like to see new economic activities developed in the area, which use and support the bison as the main point of interest. The local community should increasingly benefit from bison comeback and related tourism opportunities, boosting the local economy and alleviating pressure on natural resources.

Our main achievements

Visit the area

Along the southern end of Romania’s arcing Carpathian Mountains, the continent’s largest wilderness landscapes is being created, a place to experience a true European safari with diverse wildlife, experiences and the chance to connect with nature.

Learn more

Sandra Bartocha / Wild Wonders of Europe

Image gallery

Team members

Marina Drugă

Team leader

Alexandra Sallay-Mosoi

Technical project officer

Mariana Tintarean

LIFE project assistant

Nicoleta Toma

Financial officer

Bianca Stefanut

Communication officer

Alexandra Stancu

Project assistant

Florin Hălăștăuan

Project officer, coordinator of fieldwork

Daniel Hurduzeu

Bison ranger

Matei Miculescu

Bison ranger

Roland Hauptman

Bison ranger


Our main local partner in the Southern Carpathians rewilding area is WWF-Romania. Specific for the bison work, Rewilding Europe has signed cooperation agreements with Avesta (a bison breeder/wildlife park in Sweden) and the European Bison Conservation Centre (Poland).

WWF Romania works with local partners such as the National Forest Administration Romsilva, the Town Hall of the Armeniș commune, the Local Council of Armeniș commune, Hunedoara Zoo and the Teregova Forest Division.


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