On a dark, plunging slope thick with spruce, Austrian wolf biologist Gudrun Pflueger and a local forest ranger by the name of Vlado Vançura are poking at — and sniffing — a pile of feces.
“Lynx,” concludes Pflueger. “But everyone is coming through here.” She points to scratching from brown bears on the tree trunks, and to fur hanging from the branches. “Wolf too, perhaps,” she says pointing to another pile of feces just a few meters away. It is the wolves we hope to find. Wolves are seen as the symbol of wild lands the world over.
Pflueger and Vançura of the European Wilderness Society are part of a movement working to protect and heal Europe’s fragile and beleaguered biodiversity by importing a concept of “wilderness” more often associated with Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.
One of the hotspots for the work of the European Wilderness Society (EWS) is Tatra National Park in northern Slovakia. In October 2014, I spent nearly a month trying to understand the challenges faced by European wilderness advocates through their work in the Tatra.
All photos by Jim O’Donnell