The hides, which opened in 2016, are now offering fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities in the Velebit rewilding area. Increasingly popular with visitors, they are effectively supporting the development of a local nature-based economy.
Inside a wildlife watching hide in the heart of the Velebit rewilding area in Croatia, Ingo Zahlheimer waits with baited breath, camera at the ready. Accompanied by Nino Salkić, a field officer with the Rewilding Velebit team, the German photographer has already been lucky enough to capture close-up shots of a red deer, wandering calmly through the trees.
Suddenly, emerging from the thick vegetation, a brown bear lumbers into view, pausing occasionally to sniff the air. With the exterior of the hide cleverly camouflaged as a log pile, the animal is seemingly relaxed, despite the staccato, rapid-fire sound of camera shutters. After five minutes the bear moves off, perhaps distracted by other sounds or tempted by a foreign scent, leaving the occupants thrilled by the experience.
“It was a dream to see such a magnificent and elusive animal so close,” says Zahlheimer. “I never dreamed that I would see a bear so close, or for so long.”
With the Rewilding Velebit team opening two wildlife watching hides in 2016, increasing numbers of visitors to the Velebit rewilding area are now enjoying similarly thrilling experiences. As an attractive new nature travel offering, the hides are a small but significant step forward in the development of a nature-based economy in the Velebit Mountains. Visitors eager to take advantage of the new Velebit hides can now book them through the European Safari Company.
“These hides are the perfect choice for nature lovers, scientists and wildlife photographers, and I’m really proud that we’ve had so many satisfied guests,” says Salkić. “Interest in using them is increasing and I’m optimistic about the future. This is the perfect example of how rewilding and wild nature can form the basis for a burgeoning nature-based economy.”
The inspiration for the Velebit wildlife watching hides came from a trip to Finland by members of the Rewilding Velebit team and Simon Collier, Rewilding Europe’s Wildlife Tourism Manager.
The Velebit hides, which have been cleverly positioned close to local water sources, have an exterior which mimics the appearance of log piles ubiquitous in the area. Now concealed behind a thick screen of vegetation, they offer the perfect vantage point for witnessing the fantastic wildlife of the local area, which has become increasingly accustomed to their presence.
Built to withstand the vagaries of the Velebit climate, the hides are spacious and insulated inside, with armchairs, bunk beds and bio-chemical toilets. They can host four people on a half-day tour, or two people overnight (because of the number of beds). Food for animals is placed in front of the hides according to a set schedule.
Nino Salkić has been involved in all aspects of the wildlife hide development. During the 35-minute drive to the hides he explain the rules of behaviour to guests, and tells them what they can expect in terms of plants and animals.
“I also talk about Rewilding Europe’s activities and projects in the Velebit rewilding area,” he says. “At the end of the experience, guests always seem to be satisfied, regardless of which wild animals they are lucky enough to see. They appreciate that wild nature is unpredictable.”
Book your experience in the Velebit wildlife hides through the European Safari Company.
- Read more about Rewilding Europe’s work in the Velebit Mountains here.
- Visit the Rewilding Velebit Facebook page here.