The Mitsubishi 4WD is helter-skeltering around some awful potholes as we are rushing downhill towards the village of Mehadia. “If you could make a wish, what would that be?” I ask Gogu as the frontlights flash at large beech and elm along the forest road.
“As a hunter or as a forester?” he asks back, shifting gear, cruising around the next big puddle and concludes, “As a hunter I wish I had 30% less wolves and a quarter of the boars you have in Germany. As a forester, I wish we had a cabin in the forest where we could safely put some gear and where the men find shelter when the weather is just too bad. Better infrastructure and good roads for the lorries bringing the logs down. And that we are not cutting all the forest in the end.”
My thoughts swing back to the last two days, when I had the chance to accompany a truly Romanian hunt for wild boar. After six hours of disappointment and neither seeing nor hearing a single thing on Saturday, everybody was overly motivated on Sunday. 15 hunters of the “Clubul de Vanatoare Baile Herculane” and the “Grupa de Vanatoare Mehadia” had teamed up for this day’s hunt, each of them knowing his bit about the best ways to shoot the first boar of the season. The first two weekends had been without any success. Probably also due to Romania having seen one of the driest Octobers in the history of weather monitoring, forcing most wildlife to retreat to remote shady valleys that still held some water supplies. The initial enthusiasm dropped as the first two drives in the morning passed without a single animal in sight.
At our next location we spotted fresh tracks and freshly dug up soil along a forest road. Were they really still around? The place was carefully examined and it was already late afternoon when Gogu positioned the shooters, while the three drivers and their four dogs spread out at the foot of the hill aiming to drive the boars uphill and into shooting range. Half an hour and a few orders whispered into Gogu’s mobile phone later we heard primeval screams echoing through the forest: the hunt had begun! The drivers were beating sticks at trees, calling, screaming to get the boars on their feet. But no dog barking, no fresh tracks that would have put them in alarm mode.
All in a sudden a shot – we froze and looked at each other in excitement. A second rifle shot bellowed through the woods only two seconds later. “Uaaah!” the drivers started calling again when a shotgun was fired, two times – that was close.
Ten minutes later the first shooters had left their stands and returned to the cars. They were excited, relieved, as everyone was sure that these four shots meant – boar down.
Another half an hour and they were proven right: a three year old sow, in very good condition, around 90 kg, obviously not suckling anymore and killed with a perfect shot through the shoulder and right into the heart chamber. Bottles of home-made Tuica were handed around, a cheerful round, smiling faces.
The club is allowed to shoot 8 boars per season on 7.000 ha, Gogu explained. His eyes widened as I give him a comparison: in the 3.500 ha of the Grunewald forest in Berlin, on average 350+ boars are shot each year. He translated and everybody looked at me in disbelief, even more so as I told them that almost 450.000 boars got killed in Germany in 2011/2012.
Back in Baile Herculane, in one of the hunter’s private gardens, an electrician and a truck driver amongst the hunters were the designated expert boar skinners and almost done after one hour of hard work, preparing the skin, eviscerating the meat and dividing it into equal shares – for 20 people. My guide Adrian and I counted once again as the lottery started: weren’t there just 18 people here? One minute later Gogu held his hat with the tickets in front of us with a big inviting smile, “Come on, your turn!” There was no chance to deny and everyone was cheering as two plastic bags got loaded with 2 kg of fresh wild boar meat each.
Just two years after clear-cutting large chunks of the beech forests natural regrowth with incredibly dense stands of young beech takes over – a man-made paradise not only for wild boar to spend the day in, but also for grazers like roe deer and red deer. But hardly any of the trees here show the typical bite marks of the ungulates. Obviously, in many areas, even within the borders of the reserves, heavy poaching and official hunting keep wildlife numbers low, whilst predators, mushroom pickers and constant legal and illegal logging keep it shy.
Looking at the vast forests in Domogled Valea Cernei National Park, below the rugged plateau of the Mehedinti GeoPark and in the valleys of Tarcu Nature 2000 site with a central European eye, one would think they should be teaming with big wildlife. But the only wild animals we saw on our excursions into the Romanian wilderness in the past seven days was one hare at the road at night, a pair of ravens around our campsite in the mountains, a buzzard and a sparrow hawk in the distance and a frightened roe deer buck chased uphill to right in front of our feet during the Sunday hunt.
The Romanian nature offers great potential to any project aiming to bring wild animals back to their old realms. But it will be the Romanian people who will decide if the Rewilding Europe vision can be turned into a Rewilding Europe success story.
Florian Möllers is a German photographer who just returned from a photo mission to the Southern Carpathians rewilding area in Romania.