One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Bogdan Boev Wildlife Photography

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains is the most important breeding area for griffon vultures in Bulgaria. The whole region is also a stronghold  for wolf and jackal.

The Rhodope mountains hold a captivating array of of flora and fauna and is a stronghold of vultures in south-eastern Europe. It’s the only breeding spot in Bulgaria for griffon vultures and an important site for the globally threatened Egyptian vulture on the Balkan Peninsula. Additionally, rare cinereous vultures can be spotted soaring above. Among the dozens of other raptor species Eastern imperial eagle, Saker falcon, Levant sparrowhawk, Peregrine falcon and several other eagles can be mentioned.

The whole region is also a stronghold within Bulgaria for wolf and jackal. In recent years, brown bears have begun naturally recolonizing the Rhodopes, and the possibility of bear-watching is emerging in the landscape, particularly in the western part of the mountains.

Because of its location at the crossroads between the European and Asian continent, the impact of the Mediterranean, its pristine landscapes and the variety of habitats here in combination with the relatively small human disturbance, the Rhodope Mountains have a huge variety in species and habitats, and have become one of the bird watching hotspots in Europe.

Rewilding vision

For each rewilding landscape 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?

Restoring food webs

Vultures are perhaps the most iconic examples of European scavengers; the sight of these majestic birds soaring overhead on thermals or feeding at a carcass can be truly captivating.

Thanks to reintroductions and species protection, threatened European vulture populations are slowly but steadily recovering. Yet as the occurrence of wild herbivore carcasses has declined, so these magnificent birds have become increasingly dependent on the carcasses of domesticated animals. Ever stricter veterinary regulations, however, mean this food source is also becoming increasingly unreliable.

Our main focus is to help vultures and other scavenging species by boosting the availability of wild herbivore carcasses, thereby restoring natural food webs and closing the circle of life. Together with local partners, we are increasing the number of local ungulates through several annual red deer and fallow deer releases, with reintroduced animal behaviour monitored through the use of GPS collars. Since 2015, more than 800 fallow deer and almost 100 red deer have been released.

Since 2016, anti-poison dog units are patrolling the Rhodope Mountains rewilding landscape in Bulgaria, helping to protect vultures by establishing poison-free areas.

Boosting biodiversity through mosaic landscape creation

Together with partners, Rewilding Europe is creating space for natural processes like forest regeneration, free flowing rivers, herbivory and carnivory to impact ecosystems. Across the continent, the interaction of these processes leads to constantly evolving landscapes rather than fixed habitats – this dynamic is the key to preserving Europe’s rich biodiversity.

The work of Rewilding Europe and Rewilding Rhodopes is now seeing increasing numbers of keystone herbivores such as red and fallow deer, European bison and horses in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding landscape. Grazing trials with free-roaming wild horses will allow us to determine whether open habitats will stay open when this native herbivore is present in natural numbers.

The European bison that have been reintroduced into Studen Kladenets Reserve have quickly established themselves as a major attraction for locals and visitors. They complement a free-ranging population of fallow deer and red deer, reintroduced by the Rewilding Rhodopes team into the reserve.

Building a well-known tourism destination

The increased wildlife numbers and the reintroduced native species will provide a basis for a unique and varied tourism offer firmly built on these assets. Rhodope Mountains can become one of the best places in Europe for raptors and large herbivores watching.

In addition to that, local businesses and regional products benefit from the rewilding activities and provide incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in the landscape, thereby contributing to the uniqueness and attractiveness of it. Rewilding Europe is enhancing the Rhodope Mountains as a nature-tourism destination by supporting local enterprises and promoting the landscape.


“This type of food web is unique”

Andreana Trifonova

Andreana Trifonova
Team leader of Rhodope Mountains

How would you characterise your rewilding landscape?
Rhodope Mountain is the oldest land mass in the Balkan Peninsula. Eastern Rhodope is probably the most biodiversity rich part of the whole European continent. It represents a mosaic of diverse landscape including grass meadows, pastures, wooden land, formed by the grazing animals, not only domestic animals but also free roaming bisons and horses fallow and red deer. Alltogether they maintain a half open landscape while offering food for large carnivores and scavengers and ensuring sustainable food chain functioning. In addition to the natural richness there is unique mixture of ethnicities, traditions and religions in the region. Local people live in harmony with each other and with nature which is yet another really inspiring and fascinating feature.

What have the major achievements been in your rewilding landscape to date?
Rhodope Mountains landscape witnessed an impressive rewilding transformation over the last several years as the number of the free roaming wild herbivores increased significantly as a result of our rewilding efforts. Fallow and Red deer populations are increasing sustainably, European bisons in the landscape are now more than fifteen, the number of Karakachan and Konik horses free roaming in the landscape is over 170 animals maintaining the natural meadows, supporting germination of herbs and trees as well as increasing the availability of food for scavengers. This, in turn positively impact the number of visitors and thereby boost the landscape’s nature-based economy.

Our main achievements

Image gallery

Team members

Andreana Trifonova

Team Leader

Stefan Avramov

Rewilding Manager

Hristo Hristov

Rewilding Manager

Emil Yordanov

Rewilding Manager

Desislava Kostadinova

Rewilding Officer

Nelly Naydenova

Communications Manager

Todor Todorov

Enterprise Manager

Eftima Petkova

Administrative and Financial Coordinator

Alexander Petrov

Educational Officer

Borislav Borisov

Anti-poaching Officer

Board members

Frank Zanderink
Petar Iankov
Rossen Vassilev
Milena Nikolova


A dedicated entity was established in 2015, called Rewilding Rhodopes, a foundation registered in Bulgaria, who is the preferential partner for Rewilding Europe in this initiative. Both organisations signed a partnership agreement, including a long-term strategy.

Rewilding Rhodopes is working closely with the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and the Union of Hunters and Fishermen of Bulgaria. The Studen Kladenets hunting reserve is a local partner. Other partners are WWF Greece, Vulture Conservation Foundation and Hellenic Ornithological Society/BirdLife Greece/BirdLife Greece, private businesses, regional councils, B&B owners and wildlife tour providers.



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