The Mitsubishi 4WD is helter-skeltering around some awful potholes as we are rushing downhill towards the village of Mehadia. “If you could make a wish, what would that be?” I ask Gogu as the frontlights flash at large beech and elm along the forest road.
It is difficult to imagine the feelings of the first Europeans who stepped on the American continent. In that time, herds of millions of bison and pronghorn, followed by huge amount of wolves and giant grizzly bears lived on prairies. For cultivated Europeans endless and impenetrable forests with gigantic trees had to be frightening. This country evoked admiration and awe, as well as fear. It was a real wilderness, “a place without the God”, a place which had to be degraded on behalf of the civilization.
The disappearance of grazing herds of sheep and goats transformed large areas of the Mediterranean mountain landscape into forest with dense undergrowth and scrub. These landscapes are particularly susceptible to large fires and extremely dry summers due to climate change increase the chances of this. But with the return of native herbivores such as deer, ibex, wild horses and wild cattle, semi-natural landscapes, which are much less vulnerable to fires, are once again formed.
It was 25 years ago when I saw a tortoise for the last time, as a researcher of perhaps the richest area of reptiles in Europe: Thrace. Even Egyptian vulture, imperial eagle and black vulture fed on reptiles there. And it appeared that the majestic golden eagle, elsewhere picking young ibex and chamois off the rocks, was taking almost 100 tortoises a year per eagle chick back to the nest.
Even before reaching the hide in the Stramba Valley we see the first bears – a female with two cubs. They run up a small hill into the beech forest, hardly aware our presence. Under the guidance of a local forester we climb the stairs to the wooden hide and looking outside the window we see another female with three cubs feeding on the remains of a dead cow.