Bear Watching and Conservation Tourism in the Western Balkans

  • Country:
    The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Start year:
  • Location:
    Mavrovo and Pelister National Parks
  • Size (ha):
    Mavrovo NP – 72,000 & Pelister NP – 17,150
  • Area Type:
    The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Type of protection:
    Protected areas/ National Parks

The USAID funded Regional Economic Growth project (tourism) in the Western Balkans is supporting the development of bear viewing and conservation volunteer experiences for visitors, to provide a new source of revenue for regional National Parks, as an alternative to commercial/unsustainable hunting.

Camera trap image of brown bear


  • Habitat types: Dinaric karst Mountains and Pine Forest
  • Keystone species present: 120 Bears, 18 -20 Lynx, Red Deer, 1,200 Wild Goat, Eagle – Mavrovo; 40 Bears, 4-5 Lynx, Red Deer and Wild Goat, Eagle - Pelister
  • Fauna (mega) species present: Dinaric Pindus Brown Bear, Wolf, Lynx, Deer, Mountain Goat and Wild Boar
  • Vegetation types present: Pine forest, Alpine Meadow, High altitude grassland


  • Description: Working with local tourism businesses, community groups and the National Parks we have developed new tourism offers for small groups to join the park rangers and take part in conservation activities under their direction. The project will help the parks to better manage tourism, limit the impact of visitors, and help them and local communities to generate an income from sustainable tourism. <br /> Activities undertaken are 'Voluntourism' and national Park managed wildlife viewing programs to fund habitat conservation and restocking of prey species in a reproduction centre - Deer and Chamois. Camera trap surveys. Red Deer and Boar feeding station, renovation of derelict Bear feeding stations.
  • Aim: To showcase the potential of sustainable tourism to fund conservation in the Western Balkans region. Protected areas across the region are primarily funded by timber production and the sale of park produce. Protected area managers are under pressure to develop hunting as an additional source of income.
  • Vision: The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is Europe’s Biodiversity ‘Hotspot’, across the Balkans many of Europe’s large mammals still exist in a truly wild state. Sustainable wildlife tourism is undeveloped in the region. We hope to show National Parks, community groups and Governments in the region a new approach to funding and conservation.
  • Accomplished in 10 years from now: For all National Parks in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia to offer sustainable small group wildlife tourism which funds conservation work and benefits local communities around each protected area.
  • Uniqueness: No National Parks in the Western Balkans have developed high value, low volume wildlife tourism offers. This is a first for the region.
  • Results so far: We have created the first offers in Mavrovo and Pelister National Parks, trained the park rangers as guides and developed conservation activities for guests. Pelister have built the first Bear viewing hide, Mavrovo are planning to build 2 in the first half of 2016. We have staged the first trial tour of the new program for local conservation experts (from across the Balkans), so far 6 more protected areas in the region have asked for support to develop similar offers.
  • Flagship species: Bear
  • Other characteristics: Community involved, Eco tourism, Education, Recreational activities, Research


  • Inspirational value: Across the Balkans (and much of Eastern Europe), National Parks and protected areas harbour some of the greatest biodiversity in the continent, but lack the knowledge and entrepreneurial business skills needed to develop a new source of income from sustainable tourism. This project helps the parks and local businesses to create new offers for themselves, and to ensure that the new income is dedicated to conservation work. By generating income for local communities we can help them to value the flora and fauna of the protected areas.
  • Experience you would like to share: For many years National Parks have been under Government pressure to develop an income from tourism, the parks have been reluctant to do this as they, (and the Government) can only think in terms of mass tourism or hunting which they know will be harmful. The new types of offers -for high value, low volume and low impact tourism have been received enthusiastically by the park managers and rangers who have been asked to take part in the project
  • Experience you would like to gain: We would like help with the marketing and promotion of the new tourism offers. We would like to make contact with specialist international wildlife tour operators and travel media
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