A boon for bears in Romania
“Why are you here?” Eddie the waiter was genuinely perplexed. After an exhilarating and sometimes hair-raising day’s drive, zig-zagging up and over the southern Carpathian Mountains on Romania’s Transalpina highway, which connects Novaci and Sebes, my husband and I had stopped for the night in the alpine ski village of Ranca.
Being summer, the place was deserted. Eddie had also checked us into the hotel on arrival and would probably clean our guestroom when we departed.
“We are here to see your bears,” we told him. One of the few benefits from Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal dictatorship in Romania (he was executed on Christmas Day, 1989) is that it has one of the last complete forest ecosystems in Europe, including healthy populations of bears, wolves and lynxes. Under Ceausescu, it was illegal for Romanians to own guns — no doubt to stop them from revolting against the government.
Consequently, the top-level carnivores were not hunted to near extinction, as they have been throughout the rest of Europe.
With an undisturbed ecosystem, visiting Romania’s forests and national parks is like stepping centuries back in time.
“But you’ve come here from Australia. We all want to go to Australia,” persisted Eddie.
It became clear very quickly that Queensland’s tropical beaches were his idea of heaven. Being the only diners in the restaurant, we invited him to join us for a glass of wine. Using an app that translated his words into English and ours into Romanian, he declined the offer and told us that alcohol was not his friend.
And did we see bears? Oh yes, indeed. On a day’s walk in the forest near the Transylvanian town of Zarnesti, with a wonderful local guide, Dan Marin, we spotted bear and lynx tracks in the dirt and bear markings on trees.
At the nearby Libearty Bear Sanctuary, we saw many rehabilitated bears emerge through the oak and hazel trees to take a morning dip in a lake and bask in the sunshine.
The 70ha woodland sanctuary is no zoo. It plays an active and inspiring role in raising awareness of the importance of protecting Romania’s rich natural environment. It is a lesson that many governments could well emulate.
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