Wildlife comeback

Let’s be optimistic! After years of decline, the European populations of some wildlife species are increasing.
Such species include the beaver, elk, ibex, whooper swan and white-tailed eagle.
And wolves are starting to venture more widely.

Mark Hamblin/ Wild Wonders of Europe

Wildlife comeback

Let’s be optimistic! After years of decline, the European populations of some wildlife species are increasing.
Such species include the beaver, elk, ibex, whooper swan and white-tailed eagle.
And wolves are starting to venture more widely.

Wildlife is key

Staffan Widstrand / Wild Wonders of Europe

A spectacular comeback has started

Supporting wildlife comeback is a core element of our work at Rewilding Europe. We recognize the critically important ecological role of all wildlife species, regardless of their position in the food web. As a result of factors such as increased legal protection, reintroduction and population support measures, corridor creation, the mitigation of conflict and the promotion of co-existence, we have seen wildlife – particularly larger animal species – make a comeback across Europe over the last five decades.

Yet this only represents the start of what is possible, and also what is needed. With appropriate measures and an increasing tolerance of native wildlife species by man, such species will continue to increase in population size and range.

Bruno D'Amicis/Rewilding Europe

Co-existence – the way forward

With almost every European habitat still below its ideal state in terms of natural population densities and dynamics, we continue to face many challenges. Our goal is to develop and support “co-existence” models, where people can also benefit from wildlife comeback, for example through wildlife watching and nature-based tourism. This will grow the acceptance of wildlife returning and will support co-existence.

Rewilding can create favourable conditions for the spontaneous comeback of numerous wildlife species – this is by far the most important tool for wildlife recovery in our operational areas. This can involve reducing hunting quotas or creating hunting-free areas, combatting poisoning and poaching, mitigating conflict and damage, protecting nesting, denning or breeding sites, and by creating incentives for people to appreciate local wildlife.

We therefore invest significant effort, time and money in supporting wildlife comeback in all of our areas. This is achieved not only by creating the right conditions for such comeback to happen naturally, but also through active measures such as reintroduction, population enhancement and species protection.

Staffan Widstrand

Wildlife comeback in our rewilding areas

At a species level we have observed a stable or slight increase in the brown bear populations of the Velebit Mountains and Southern Carpathians, while the first bear sightings have also been recorded in the Rhodope Mountains. Iberian wolves are returning to the Greater Côa Valley in Portugal, while the Oder Delta sees the comeback of Elk and European bison. We also see expansion and increase of golden jackal numbers in the Danube Delta, Rhodope Mountains and Velebit Mountains.

The elk is a regular species in Swedish Lapland, but the population dynamics are heavily influenced by hunting. Red deer numbers are also increasing in the Oder Delta, while populations have started to grow in the Rhodope and Velebit Mountains after our releases there. The griffon vulture population in the Rhodope Mountains is increasing slowly, while in the same area the threatened Egyptian vulture population now boasts the highest number of breeding pairs in the last five years. In 2016 an Iberian lynx was spotted for the first time in Portugal’s Côa Valley, indicating the potential attraction of this area to the world’s most endangered cat species.

These examples show there are strong indicators of positive trends in the populations of many species across our rewilding areas.

Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

European Wildlife Bank

Launched in 2013, the European Wildlife Bank is designed to facilitate the reintroduction and restocking of herbivores to rewilding areas across the continent. It has already proven successful, supplying animals to 21 sites across Europe. The bank itself has prospered, increasing to around 1020 animals since the start of the programme.

Expansion of natural grazing across rewilding areas and in areas that are part of the European Rewilding Network will be a key priority over the coming years, to safeguard this vital component of European ecosystems. It is important to realise that in all the areas where natural grazing takes place, there is natural predation, in particular by wolves.

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Working with wildlife in our operational areas

  Populations are enhanced through measures such as restocking, reintroduction, anti-poaching, anti-poisoning and coexistence work, and habitat improvement.

 The species is keystone/flagship and benefits indirectly from measures supporting other species.


Species we are focusing on

European bison

The feeding habits of European bison have more impact on shrubs and young trees. Bison simply open up bush but also have an impact on the soil due to their trampling, dung, wallowing and herd gatherings.

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We are focusing on the recovery and further expansion of the black and griffon vulture populations in the Rhodope Mountains (Bulgaria) as well as the Greater Côa Valley (Portugal), and soon in Velebit Mountains (Croatia) and Central Apennines (Italy).

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Wild horses

Wild horses play a key role in ecosystems through their grazing behaviour, seasonal migration, daily routes, trampling and latrines. For rewilding, we are using primitive breeds that are most closely related to the extinct European wild horse.

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Wild bovines have been a keystone species shaping European landscapes. We are breeding back an animal that will be very close to the extinct Aurochs, using primitive breeds and crossbreeds that are most closely related to it.

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Eradicated from many parts of Europe, the Eurasian lynx was considered extinct in nearly the whole of Central Europe for 200 years. Successful reintroduction relies strongly on acceptance by the general public.

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In all of our rewilding areas carnivore species play an integral role in shaping the local conservation setting, with the grey wolf occurring in all areas. A range of activities are done to prepare for the comeback of this species.

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Other species

A range of other keystone wildlife species have our attention in the rewilding areas, ranging from red deer, fallow deer, Balkan and Apennines chamois, to white-tailed and lesser-spotted eagle, beaver, grey seal, Asiatic wild ass, Dalmatian pelican and others.

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Our main achievements

Wildlife Comeback Report published

Report published by the Zoological Society of London, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia and the European Bird Census Council on wildlife comeback in Europe, showing some staggering results of iconic European wildlife species increasing their numbers and distribution ranges. The comeback of 47 bird and mammal species is analyzed in detail, including their population dynamics, changes in distributions, and reasons for their recovery. Interestingly, the report also looks into what this means for Europe and Europeans, both in terms of opportunities and challenges. An update is underway to be published in 2022.

Actions plans for bison, Tauros and wild horses

Action plans developed for European bison, Tauros and wild horses to be brought back into European landscapes, with many concrete actions on these species. These action plans, of which you find more information in the species pages, guide our work on bringing them back in the European landscapes. All these reports give a lot of practical information about reintroductions, breeding, translocation, management and handling of these animals.

Partnerships that make a difference

Strategic partnerships established with key institutions on wildlife conservation, such as European Bison Conservation Centre, Taurus Foundation, Large Carnivore Initiative Europe, Vulture Conservation Foundation and others. These partnerships have already been critical for supporting the comeback of the species involved, and include cooperation on breeding, research, genetic analysis, translocations, addressing human-wildlife conflicts and others activities.

LIFE projects for European bison, griffon vulture and Iberian wolf

Three large LIFE Nature projects started on iconic species: European bison (Southern Carpathians and Rhodope Mountains), black and griffon vultures (Rhodope Mountains), and Iberian wolf (Greater Côa Valley). We have started building two free-roaming populations of European bison, with 65 animals so far in the Southern Carpathians and 7 in the Rhodope Mountains. Working with BirdLife partners and Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, we are supporting the gradual increase of griffon vulture populations, while also taking measures to help establishing a new black vulture colony on the Bulgarian side. In the Greater Côa Valley, we are promoting co-existence with the Iberian wolf and local livestock breeders, by deploying guard dogs as well as setting up strategic fences. We are also working with local authorities on reducing poaching, increasing the availability of prey species such as roe deer and decreasing the incidence of catastrophic fires.

A bank to support wildlife comeback

European Wildlife Bank has been set up, to coordinate the breeding and management of large herbivore species across Europe. The number of animals in the Bank is growing rapidly. The Bank is a mechanism which supports the increase and grazing of large herbivores in the rewilding areas, through herd contracts that give these animals into a custodianship with landowners. Since 2013 a total of 34 herd contracts have been signed so far.

Wildlife watching hides

Support of wildlife watching enterprises across the rewilding areas, in particular in Western Iberia, Velebit Mountains and Rhodope Mountains, to show the value of wildlife for the local economy. Hides in Greater Côa Valleyf ocus on vultures in the Faia Brava reserve, while in Velebit the focus is on brown bear, red deer, lynx and wild boar. In the Rhodopes, the hides are particularly set up for griffon, black and Egyptian vultures, golden jackal and eagles. The hides are operated by local partners and businesses, that are supported through our enterprise programme.

Wildlife Comeback in Europe report

In 2013, scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) worked with experts from across Europe to gather data about the distribution and abundance of selected species. The report describes how, why and where 37 mammal and bird species have recovered over the past 50 years. It provides important lessons for the conservation of these and other species.

“Wildlife will bounce back if we allow it to – this report shows that,” says Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe who initiated and commissioned this study. “With continued and strong legal protection, active boosting of existing wildlife populations and reintroductions to bring back lost species, combined with an increasing tolerance towards wildlife, more species will surely follow.”

A fully updated report on Wildlife Comeback in Europe, and associated academic papers on this topic, are in preparation and will be published in 2022. It will be developed by the same partners as in 2013, but now also including WWF.

Wildlife Comeback in Europe
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