Everyone loves a puppy picture. But these cute Carpathian sheepdogs are more than just a shameless attempt to lure you in with some canine clickbait. They are central to the success of a Fauna & Flora International (FFI) project that has been shortlisted for a prestigious European award, which honours outstanding nature conservation achievements connected to the EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
Conserving large carnivores on a crowded continent is not easy, particularly in the 21st century. This was the conundrum facing FFI almost a decade ago, when we began working with local partner Asociaţia Zarand in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, which support around 40% of Europe’s brown bears and 21% of its wolves.
When FFI first intervened, these charismatic but frequently feared, maligned and persecuted predators were facing a quartet of threats: landscape fragmentation, inadequate conservation management, a worrying casualty count as a result of poaching and human-wildlife conflict, and culturally entrenched negative attitudes towards them.
Since 2013, we have been tackling these challenges with support from the LIFE programme – an EU funding mechanism for nature conservation and climate action – via a project entitled ‘Enhancing landscape connectivity for brown bear and wolf through a regional network of Natura 2000 sites in Romania.’ That’s a bit of a mouthful, but what has it meant in practice?