Head a short way inland from Croatia’s crowded beaches and hotels, and you’re in the mountains where bears, lynx and wolves roam. It’s one of a number of rewilded locations you can visit with European Safari Company. Nino Salkic, who guides safaris on Mount Velebit, tells 5 what makes this place special.
I took my first steps on the Velebit mountain and probably I’ll take my last ones there. I’ve been working for Rewilding Velebit as a rewilding officer and guide for almost six years. I like to say I have the world’s biggest office because it’s more than 140km from south to north.
Here there are bears, Eurasian lynx and wolves: the big three. This is one of the few spots in Europe when in the morning you can swim and watch dolphins, and in the afternoon you can go and watch bears. We have more than a 60 per cent chance of seeing the bear. But this is nature, it’s not a zoo. So you never know. We always see some kind of animal: red deer, roe deer, foxes, badgers, wild boars, many, many other animals.
“You have to be patient. At the last minute, when you want to go, is when all the animals appear”
Younger bears migrate through the area and there are five or six bears that are constantly around. Spotting bears is not easy, but I know the places where you can see them. Bears are like people, they each have a different character, different behaviour. Spending time with bears is special for me every time.
Spending time in the hide is practically meditation. You have to be very quiet. Any move can produce a sound that animals can hear. You need to disconnect to increase your senses and just relax. Some people are nervous and cannot wait but you have to just be patient. At the last minute when you want to go, is when all the animals appear. This has happened many times.
I remember when I first saw the lynx. It’s a very shy nocturnal animal – we call it the ghost. The population is growing but still, you can count people on one hand who have seen it. And the lynx, he looked back at me. That was a special moment.
I like to spend time with people, telling them the stories about the area, not just the things that people always visit but also the things that don’t get the attention they deserve. The abandoned villages from when life was completely different, the nomadic life of past people, also the gastronomy, the places where you can eat good local food.
The rewilding project is really changing nature. Before, there were not so many animals. After a time we released red deer and then the wolves returned, the bear returned, the whole ecosystem started again, and now the presence of animals is really huge. Mostly tourism in Croatia is related to the sea. But rewilding is helping nature-based tourism to increase.
Rewilding is doing great stuff and I’m looking forward to seeing rewilding grow more and more, so that people are trying to work with nature, not against it.