The Carpathian Mountains are home to the second-largest population of wolf (Canis lupus) in the European Union. Wolves in this area, however, are threatened by a range of factors, including habitat fragmentation, poaching and conflict with hunters, weak institutional management, and negative public attitudes.
The overall objective of the WOLFLIFE project was to maintain a viable wolf population in the Carpathian Mountains. The projects area covers the central and southern parts of the Eastern Carpathians, including 18 Natura 2000 network sites in which the wolf is protected. Data obtained during the project will form the basis for developing an effective action plan to maintain a viable wolf population, in line with EU policy regarding the conservation and sustainable management of large carnivores. The projects specific aims were to improve the management of the wolf by drafting a participatory national action plan; promote better coexistence between the wolf and local stakeholder groups, especially farmers and hunters; prevent the decline of the wolf population by limiting poaching and improving habitat connectivity; transfer expertise gained to ensure the development of adequate training for the conservation of the wolf; reduce damage caused by wolves; and change the hostile public and stakeholder perception of the wolf through public awareness campaigns.
WOLFLIFE successfully developed a National Action Plan for the wolf (Canis lupus) in Romania, implemented diverse conservation actions for wolf populations in 18 Natura 2000 network sites, and helped positively change attitudes regarding wolves in society.
The project team developed the National Action Plan (NAP) for the wolf in Romania, which was approved in July 2018 by the Minister for the Environment. As part of the NAP, guidelines were developed and pioneering methods implemented for robust population estimates of the national wolf populations. The project team proposed innovative measures for assessing the size, distribution, structure and dynamics of the wolf population. An integrated sampling procedure and methodology, for instance, was demonstrated for the wolf population in the Eastern Carpathians. The NAP was given a high visibility, for example, through an article published in National Geographic. Effective wolf management and conservation strategies were developed.
Improving wolf-human coexistence and developing good practices for preventing conflicts with wolves was a key success story of WOLFLIFE. The project led to the establishment of the Centre for the Reproduction, Care and Surveillance of Livestock Guarding Dogs (CRISCPS), including the setting up of a kennel for the breeding of native dog breeds traditionally used by shepherds for farm protection, training areas, accommodation space, and veterinary treatment facilities. A breeding programme for livestock guarding dogs was successfully launched, along with the establishment of a long-term guard dog owners network. The project team identified and evaluated traditional livestock farms, in terms of the risk of damage from wolves. The project implemented best practices and demonstration actions, including the use of electrical systems and repellents, to reduce conflicts between livestock farmers and wolves in six pilot areas. In addition, the project team developed plans and methodologies to estimate the density of wandering feral dogs in wolf habitats, which compete with wolves for prey. They collected and removed 7 751 feral dogs from wolf habitat areas. A demonstration campaign was also conducted for feral dog sterilisation, and vaccination to reduce the risk of diseases being passedfrom feral dogs to wolves.
The project team identified 19 dens and 13 rendezvous areas for wolves, identified 36 risk areas in which there is the possibility of wolf habitat fragmentation, and developed technical proposals for the permeability of existing transport infrastructure to facilitate wolf movement across seven national road and five railway sections. Project action also improved the management of the wolf's key prey species. A Best Practice Manual for the management of prey-species of wolves was produced. The consequence of implementing these methods to improve prey availability should be a lower attack frequency of wolfs on livestock.
The project is highly relevant to the implementation of the EU Habitats Directives and for agri-environmental schemes, as the aim was to reach and maintain the favourable conservation status of Natura 2000 habitats and species. The long-term environmental benefit is increasing the wolf populations conservation status, in an area which comprises one of the largest wolf populations in Europe. The nature conservation status of Natura 2000 project areas will be improved and will support richer biodiversity.
Moreover, some of the project team members are part of the National Working Group on Wolf Conservation, and the Ministry has recognised the value of the project for establishing the most appropriate conservation measures for wolves in Romania. As a result of participation at international conferences and other specialised events, and through scientific publications, the project expanded its impact to a European level.
Several actions dealt with socio-economic effects. The implementation of the best practices and demonstrative actions to reduce conflict between farmers and wolves, and protect livestock, in the six pilot areas led to increased farmers income by reducing the number of animals lost to wolves. The project team implemented a series of activities for raising awareness among local people of all ages regarding the importance of wolves and their prey species. The coordinating beneficiary also organised information and training sessions for hunters, who are key stakeholders in the process, as well as mounting information panels in the 18 Natura 2000 sites where the project took place.Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).