By helping to establish a stable population of deer in the area, the reintroduction will boost biodiversity through natural grazing, help scavenging species such as vultures by increasing the availability of carrion, and raise the profile of the Rhodope Mountains as a prime nature tourism destination.
Earlier this month a herd of 54 fallow deer was released in the Madzharovo Natura 2000 site in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area. As the first large group of this species reintroduced here, the hope is that it will lead to the creation of a stable, long-term population.
The return of the deer will benefit the area in many ways, both in terms of the restoration of wild nature, and through heightening its reputation as an excellent destination for wildlife watching and nature photography. The grazing of the deer will create a more biodiversity-rich mosaic landscape, while their presence will also help the local vulture population and other scavenging species by boosting the availability of carrion, thereby closing the Circle of Life.
“We hope tourists will be able to enjoy sightings of these wonderful animals,” says Stefan Avramov, a rewilding officer with the Rewilding Rhodopes team. “They will complement and support the griffon vultures which are the iconic wildlife species of the area.”
Following a period of time in an acclimatisation enclosure, the fallow deer were successfully released and are now settling into their new home. Оne animal has been equipped with a GPS transmitter, allowing the team to monitor the wellbeing and location of the herd. The reintroduction site was carefully selected for the quality of its habitat, as well as the willingness of local hunting groups to cease poaching activities and support restoration of the species.
Herds of red and fallow deer have already been reintroduced into the Rhodopes rewilding area in recent years, with successive reintroductions proving a good way to establish viable populations. The overall aim is to establish populations of at least 50 free-roaming red deer and 300 free-roaming fallow deer in this part of the Eastern Rhodopes.
The deer releases are being carried out under the framework of the five-year LIFE Vultures project and through the support of Fondation Segré. Starting in 2016, this was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria and a range of other partners.
Focusing on the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area, as well as a section of the Rhodope Mountains in northern Greece, the aim of the LIFE Vultures project is to support the recovery and further expansion of local black and griffon vulture populations, mainly by improving natural prey availability, and by reducing mortality through factors such as poaching, poisoning and collisions with power lines.
Fallow deer were once widespread in Bulgaria. They feature in art and drawings that date back to the Thracian era, while deer bones have been discovered in almost all Bulgarian prehistoric settlements. It is assumed they were hunted to extinction in the Rhodopes during the Middle Ages.