There was a number of local skepticism when the rewilding program first got here here in 2014, Matei said. But opinion shifted once the ecotourism project began just a few years later. “We released these bison into the wild, and the locals accepted them living on their land mainly, and now now we have to provide them something back,” Matei said, explaining that each aspect of our trip, from meals to transports to the family renting out the guesthouse, can be handled by villagers.
Matei left for the evening, and shortly after, a middle-aged couple arrived, pulling foil-wrapped ceramic dishes from their automotive. We sat at an extended wood table within the courtyard as they unveiled a steaming spread of grilled meat, local cheese, tomatoes in vinegar and a delicious local specialty much like matzo ball soup. Before we began, they insisted we take shots of their homemade plum brandy after which waited expectantly for us to signal our enjoyment, a not-unpleasant procedure that may be repeated at virtually every meal we had within the Romanian countryside.
Early the subsequent morning, Matei and a driver picked us up in an enormous battered pickup and we drove as much as the bottom camp, an idyllic hillside farmstead scattered with blossoming apple trees and camping tents, where we were greeted by about 100 sheep and a handful of enthusiastic sheepdogs. We dropped our bags while Matei chatted with the shepherd, a youngish, tough-looking chain-smoker in waders leaning on a wood walking stick. Then we headed into the mountains.
The forest closed in around us, huge beech trees and pines, lots of them a whole bunch of years old. The Carpathians encompass the most important area of unbroken forest on the continent, in addition to the very best concentrations of brown bears, wolves and lynxes and greater than a 3rd of all European plant species.
For 1000’s of years, the European bison, an in depth relative of the American bison, roamed these mountains — a part of a habitat that prolonged from southern France to the Volga River and the Caucasus. Its ancestor, the steppe bison, appears in cave paintings dating back greater than 35,000 years.
As human populations expanded and cut down forests, the bison’s range decreased, and by the turn of the century it had been hunted to close extinction. The last wild European bison was killed by poachers within the Russian Caucasus in 1927. By then, fewer than 50 remained, all held in zoos. Projects geared toward saving the bison began almost immediately in Germany and Poland, where the primary bison reintroduction took place within the Białowieża Forest in 1952. Breeding programs and reintroductions continued through the remainder of the century, and by 2010, there have been greater than 2,000 free-roaming bison in Europe.