Rewilding the Rhodope Mountains

Vultures are perhaps the most iconic examples of European scavengers; the sight of these majestic birds soaring overhead on thermals or feeding at a carcass can be truly captivating.
Thanks to reintroductions and species protection, threatened European vulture populations are slowly but steadily recovering. Yet as the occurrence of wild herbivore carcasses has declined, so these magnificent birds have become increasingly dependent on the carcasses of domesticated animals. Ever stricter veterinary regulations, however, mean this food source is also becoming increasingly unreliable.

Working with local partners Rewilding Rhodopes is increasing the number of local ungulates through several annual red deer and fallow deer releases, with reintroduced animal behaviour monitored through the use of GPS collars. Since 2014, over 500 fallow deer and 100 red deer have been released.

The number of griffon vulture pairs rose to 105 producing 72 juveniles (compared with 65 in 2018), that fledged successfully. Considerable time and effort has been invested
in protecting this burgeoning colony, with 167 pylons insulated and fitted with flight diverters to prevent electrocution and collisions. In 2016 the first anti-poison dog unit also began patrolling the Rhodope Mountains helping to protect vultures by establishing poison-free areas.

Together with partners, Rewilding Europe is creating space for natural processes like forest regeneration, free flowing rivers, herbivory and carnivory to impact ecosystems. The work of Rewilding Europe and Rewilding Rhodopes is now seeing increasing numbers of keystone herbivores such as red and fallow deer, European bison and horses in the Rhodopes. Grazing trials with free-roaming wild horses will allow to determine whether open habitats will stay open when this native herbivore is present in natural numbers.

The increased wildlife numbers and the reintroduced native species provide a basis for a unique and varied tourism offer firmly built on these assets. Rhodope Mountains can become one of the best places in Europe for raptors and large herbivores watching. In addition to that, local businesses and regional products benefit from the rewilding activities and provide incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in the area, thereby contributing to the uniqueness and attractiveness of it.