In the past 3 years during implementation of the NaturAL Project, a number of scientific expeditions have been undertaken, with the purpose to identify potential sites that might be part of Natura 2000 network. Expeditions focus on researching flora and fauna species as well as their habitats, both crucial for the survival of biodiversity. With reference to the 5 primary and 5 secondary protected areas, primarily covered by the project, expeditions involved RAPA’s staff as part of the capacity building program aspect “On-the-job training”.
The expedition of this group of zoologists, that I joined, was organized from 01st – 04th of August 2017 in the Natural Park of Korab - Koritnik. The first day of the expedition began with a surveying a part of the park near the village of Rabdisht. High temperatures did not create much expectation to see many species. All along the road was a scenario of warfare, a network of water pipelines created by families from the nearby village. Everything around the pipes plunged into drought. On our right we could see a canal of a dried up torrent. In the background call of the Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) could be heard in the forest close to us. We had to walk a few miles until we saw some scats of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus). At sunset, we were surprised and happy to see the traces of brown bear cubs (Ursus arctos), most likely. Not a bad finding considering that the conditions were almost impossible for survival of these species.
The second day consisted of setting up Sherman traps in places we identified on the previous day, with which we could monitor the presence of hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and the edible dormouse (Glis glis). The pitfalls were set so that they covered the whole area of interest and were less visible. Inside the traps we put some food that contained peanut butter and different seeds that would attract interested species. Presence of large mammals such as the wolf, the bear, the roe deer, and the fox were also observed in the monitoring of the surrounding area.
During the third day the expedition we went back to the trip to Lake Grama on Korabi Mountain. The road that led to it was broken, and during our way we found several fox scats (Vulpes vulpes) and heard the calls of some important bird species . The landscape offers wide views of the pastures and livestock that graze tax in the vicinity of Lake Grama. In front of the lake was smoke coming out of the old pine forest. It was unavoidable to see a considerable amount of waste left by visitors to the area. Around the lake Grama is a wetland which, on a very small surface, provides habitats for some surprising species such as Triturus alpestris, Rana ridibunda, Bombina variegata at different stages of their development. All areas provide important habitats for some types of amphibians and reptiles. It was surprising to see swallows at heights of 1800 m , who were running away from high temperatures, which were reaching almost 40°C even as such high mountain ranges. High numbers of infects, especially grasshoppers, was also noted. In the second part of the day we moved near Rabdisht to check on Sherman traps for the presence of hazel and edible dormice. After checking the traps, we added food to them and restored them to re-check the next day.
The next day, at last, some dormice fell into the traps, whereas in the previous days lizards were the only passer-byes. Baring in mind physiological adaptation of reptiles it is not surprising that they were the only visitors during scorching temperatures at the time. These few days of expedition are described in a very simple way. In reality, such days carry hours and hours of work, analyses that are then translated into reports used to guide practices and policies in order to ensure continuity of nature conservation and further preservation of standards compatible with EU directives and international conventions. However, looking beyond all the procedures and fulfillment of yone's goals or tasks, the inevitable question is: To what extent is the importance of Protected Areas understood by the general public?
While the zoologists were controlling the Sherman traps, the noise of a chainsaw was heard from some distance in the woods. This explains the reason why this natural environment needs to be tended for. The villagers tend to see the surrounding natural environment them as something that needs to be exploited, rather than protected.
A zoologist from RAPA team approached the villager: “How are you? Is everything fine? Did you know that this is a Protected Area and you cannot cut the trees?”. The villager’s face turned towards us with the greatest disregard, typical of someone who has nothing to lose by answering: “This is my land! My father bought it with gold, I will do what I want to!!”.
From the other side the pines were devoured by flames, and it seemed that the war with the “land’s heirs” will be long, and it has only just begun.
Article by Artenisa Peçulaj
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