Slovakia 2012: White Wilderness/Carpathian Wolf Watch

How I got to Slovakia

After getting my degree as a Master of Science in Biology, I noticed I didn’t have that much field experience. So, I started wondering around the internet in search for opportunities. Soon enough I figured out most of the volunteer projects ask for a fee to participate. I kept searching for opportunities and at the same time, I got an e-mail in my University inbox about potential funding for an internship which will help you in the later life to find a job. BINGO, I had a plan!

So it happened, I applied for the White Wilderness Project and I got accepted as a trainee at the Slovak Wildlife Society in the framework of the European LLP training programme ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’. This meant I was going to track predators and prey in the snow in wonderful Slovakia for 2 weeks as part of the Carpathian Wolf Watch: White Wilderness for the Slovak Wildlife Society (SWS).

Bratislava

Bratislava was the meeting point for the project start. I took a Eurolines bus from Brussels to Bratislava (check out my page How to get to Slovakia). I decided to go a couple of days earlier to explore Bratislava, the Slovak Capital.
I stayed at the Downtown Backpackers hostel. Very friendly and English-speaking staff. This Hostel has a very nice bar downstairs where a lot of locals are coming. Also, the food in the bar is really good. Furthermore, I visited the Old Town and the Castle. From the Castle, you have a nice view over Bratislava. I’ve never been inside of the castle, but I heard there is not that much to see.
More Things to Do in Bratislava

Friday night, I already met up with some people from the project and we went for dinner at the Slovak Pub.

Bratislava
Bratislava main square
Bratislava castle

Liptovský Mikuláš & Study Area

Saturday morning, the official start of the project, I was super excited. Although the first part of the trip was a 4hrs train journey to the more mountainous area of Slovakia. The study area is situated between the High Tatras and to Lower Tatras, near Liptovský Mikuláš. The first day consisted of getting to know the people and presentations about the project, about our role, safety issues, etc. After some more preparing and a training day, we were ready to do to the job.

The Project: White Wilderness: Carpathian Wolf Watch

During the project, we either walked transects (predefined route) and mark down all the tracks we find, both predators and prey. Off course we pay a bit more attention if we find tracks or signs of predators. The other activity is following the tracks of wolf or lynx and try to get clues about behaviour and collect DNA samples. More info you can find on:
 http://slovakwildlife.org/en/activities/whitewilderness

Usually, we were out in groups of 3 people. This meant we were out each day in about 4-5 groups covering different areas. In the evening, each group presented their findings to the others, so everybody had a clue what was going on in the project. As we were part of a monitoring project, it’s not only about collecting the data, but each group also entered their data into the computer so it can be used later on.

lunchbreak in the tatras

Lynx Tracks

In the snow, the animal tracks were quite good visible. On one of the days, we were scheduled to go on a transect up to a saddle. On the saddle, we got lucky and we found lynx tracks. We looked around and investigated what was happening. We came across a nice little lynx bed, where the lynx had taken a rest. After careful investigation, we found a couple of lynx hairs we could collect as a DNA sample. Notice the nice lynx print, which is asymmetrical with one of the front toes a bit more ahead of the other one.

We kept following the lynx tracks, there were plenty, probably even more than one individual. We also found a marking place from the lynx, so we also collected some of the “yellow snow” as a DNA sample.

tracking lynx
measuring tracks
Lynx track

Project Life

It was really cold and sometimes the cars had trouble starting, or needed a little help from their friends. At some point in started to be a kind of a ritual every morning to start the cars.

Beehives

Furthermore, we saw a couple of different strategies to project beehives from bears:

Wolf Tracks

I also managed to follow wolf tracks, those tracks actually lead us to a nearby ski resort. The wolves just passed about 50m for the hotel, probably late at night, and crossed the ski slope twice.

The Wildlife

I was able to see tracks of all the 3 large carnivores (lynx, wolf, bear), but no direct sightings. On the other hand, I was able to spot some Roe deer and Red deer, and a Golden eagle on one of my walks. More in the forestry areas I saw a Hazel grouse and I had a very quick sighting of a Capercaillie.

Final Thoughts

During my 2 weeks out there, I managed to see a lot of tracks and learn a lot about tracking and monitoring. Besides that, I made a ton of new friends.
Update: I returned as a staff member (Volunteer Team Leader) in the next years, check out my blogs here:

Check out my blogs about my experiences in other years: 2017, 201620152014, & 2013

Want to know more about Slovakia? >> Check out our Slovakia Page

Slovakia is a great place to visit, both in winter and summer.

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