Dear friends

 

My name is Dusan Toholj, I’m engineer of nature conservation by profession, and in spare time adventurer and biological researcher. I’m the president of biological-research organization called “Southern Blue Sky” from Trebinje. We work on projects of studying and preservation of wilderness and wildlife.

Our activities are still based on education of public but in the future we hope that protection of habitats and individual species will be on higher and more concrete level.

I must emphasise that we never do things by heart but only based on facts and research, and in accordance with the project Natura 2000 and Conventions concerning necessity of conservation of wild animals and their habitats.

As part of our mission, since 2006. we are involved in „Balkan Vulture Action Plan“ whose developer is Black Vulture Conservation Foudation from Malorka, Spain.

Our role in the project is to recover the colony of Griffon Vultures in Herzegovina and to minimise (or stop) the misuse of poisons in killing wolves.

It’s well known that life paths of Griffon Vultures and wolves or LC are directly connected through misuse of poisons, which proved ineffective against the wolves, but fatal for vultures.

In previous years, 80-90's, there was no information on the exact number of wolves. This issue would not be started even now if there was no problem with misuse of poisons in the fight against the wolves. Poisons are, unfortunately, generally accepted as the only way of fighting against the wolves, which proved to be untrue, because the wolves rarely return to the slaughtered animal, but many other animals (Griffon Vulture, fox, various eagles) find carcasses and become innocent victims. The solution to this problem requires a scientific approach.

The wider project of large carnivores preservation would be a good way of solving the problem.

Wolf is one of four large carnivors which have extincted in most parts of Europe, but still inhabits the Balkan peninsula.

The study area is the southeastern part of Dinarids, eastern Herzegovina. The climate in this area is very characteristic: hot summers, mild and rainy, rarely snowy winters. The Flora is also characteristic for this kind of climate: deciduous forests: oak and hornbeam, chaparral, prickly juniper bushes. High and dense forest is very rare, because of the uncontrolled exploatation by people (firewood).

Through the project “Recover of Griffon Vulture colonies in Herzegovina”, we donated Tornjak dogs – racial guardian dogs and electric fences to farmers. The idea is to help them to defend their cattle from wolves but in the way which don’t hurt the nature, so to speak. We tried and still trying to point the role of wolves and other large carnivores in the nature and food chain. We are not pleading for wolves "anarchy" but for conscientious guarding and cattle breeding.

On the mountain territory which are we covering through field work (Orjen massive, White Mountains) there are still bears. True, we don’t see them very often, but traces are visible: feces, mouth, chipped trees, trampled grass … This is potentially a protected area (national park), and that’s why is important to prove that it’s the bear habitat. Hunting lobby is persistently denying the existence of bear in that territory (White Mountains are not on the Map of bears’ habitats in Bosnia and Herzegovina) because such situation suits them. No bears – no protected area. Protected area brings restriction of hunting and that’s the main reason why hunters are against of idea that White Mountains should become the national park.

In all our efforts to explain the mission of our organization we always rely on Conventions, laws, scientific research methods, we collect samples of feces and hair for DNA analysis, photograph footprints in snow or ground, and use trap cameras to record animals etc.

We also have good will for telemetric research, monitoring of wolves and bears in order to determine the number and quality of the population.

Beside good will, we’ve collected all documentation and authorizations approvals required for the field work, the licence to capture animals, radio frequencies for necklaces etc.

Only and the biggest barriers are:

· Very low percent of protected areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina (about 1% of the total territory),

· Laws which, up to recently, didn’t predict biological researches; only the users of hunting ground (read hunters) could have any contact with wild animals (had monopoly over wild animals).

On our initiative, the Law is changed but hunters’ hostility remained, so we are still fighting with destruction and theft of our equipment. So far we lost 6 cages – used for catching wolves. For several times we had to give a statement to the police, because they thought our cameras were explosive devices.

We used to deal with local primitives but when authorized Ministry show similar reaction, that hurts us.

For example, we reported a case when whole pack of wolves was killed and two cases of ilegally killed bear. No one was punished in cases of wolves. Only in the last case of the killed bear, one individual was punished for possessing bear’s meat but not for the actual act of killing.

Unfortunately, jurisdiction over wild animals belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture, Department for Hunting, instead to the Ministry of Ecology, as it should be. This is the main reason why we haven't experienced a positive or at least professional reaction. On the contrary, the local Hunting Assocciation presents our organisation, our work and us, as if we are enemies of the people.

Fortunately, we had strong grounds in international laws and Conventions so, as a result of the conflict, the Law on the Protection and Welfare of Animals was elected, which made our life and work much easier.

Therefore, the project gave the results!

Beside direct contact with nature, through tracking of LC, we started to educate the population about the neccessity of wild nature preserving. We should stop looking at nature as our enemy, it is and must be considered as friend and that's the only right way of finding the satisfactory solution for coexistence with nature.

Because of all that, we are drawing public attention to the significance of the White Mountain (bijelagora) as a habitat of great importance for the survival of wild animals in our area.

White Mountains (bijelagora) with an area of 200 km2 (square kilometers), exceptional flora and fauna with several endemic species (Pinus heldreichii, Gentiana lutea, Falco biarmicus), many kinds of berries, exceptional landscapes streaked with evergreen and deciduous tree species, high and unreachable cliffs, peaks of almost 2000 meters above sea level, snow pits where snow almost never melts, deserves admiration of every visitor.

Unfortunately, a wilderness so perfect, does not enjoy any status in our laws. People are cutting forest for their own needs, without any selection and destroy the habitat of wild animals, leaving nothing but car wrecks and other garbage that can not rot for more then 1000 years.

To conclude, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of rare europian countries which ignore the necessity of nature protection. It still hasn't signed CITES convention under excuse that people are priorities and there are no funds for any other things.

Our organization is the only one from Bosnia and Herzegivina who took active part at Pan-European Conference on Large Carnivores (bear, lynx, wolf, volverine) which was held in Slovenia, 2008.

I ask: WHERE ARE UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS AND OFFICIALS FROM BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA?

I THINK WE HAVE THEM!

With full responsibility I must say that NGOs are alone in the struggle for survival and the preservation of nature in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At our initiative, a bear has been declared as permanently protected species in the territory of Eastern Herzegovina. Also, chasing of wolves, as a way of hunting, is temporarily banned, as long as the consequences of the last hunt are not eliminated.

At our initiative, a story about wolves as animal species, their needs, habits, and the importance for survival of complete nature went public. Also we propagate the importance of adopting the European Convention on the rights and welfare of animals.

At our initiative, the Law on the Protection and Welfare of Animals was elected, the first law after many decades of hunting monopolistic power in this area, The Law which regulates animal rights, at least on paper.

At our initiative, corrections of Hunting Law were made, which stipulated that no activities on the protection and study of wild animals can not take place without the consent and approval of the Hunting Association. -Mentioned Law needs serious reform, but this is a good start.

In the nature every creature has its own place and purpose mean. We are not great masters of nature; we only try to create friendly coexistence. If you think, it is easy, please THINK AGAIN.

The nature should stay that way – wild, untamed, real and beautiful.

In 2013. we are organized a biological expedition to White Mountains; the project is called “Biodiversity Week 2013”.

The main outlines of the project:

  • The scientific and valid proof that White Mountain is the habit of bears.
  • Promotion of White Mountain as biodiversity oasis (Emerald area).
  • Public awareness that White Mountain need and must be preserved and protected.
  • Founding teams of young biologists-researches (school age).

„White Mountains and Orjen – perfect wilderness, original representative of „wild Balkan“, standing there gives us feeling as if we are in different dimension of reality (even for a moment); it reminds us on the landscape from The Lord of the Rings, it seems like orchs and fairs are hiding behind trees. “

(Anonymous, Wild-Wild Balkan National Geographic)

„Yes, Herzegovina is just like that, indescribably beautiful, with one leg you are in the sea while the other one is deep in the snow. “

(unknown medieval writer)

The massif of Orjen is set on the east side of Trebinje; in the south-eastern endpoint of the Republic of Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Its territory doesn't end there; it goes across the border with Montenegro and Croatia on other side. This international aspect makes Orjen even more significant. Size of the Orjen's massif is around 300 square kilometres; air line to the sea is only 5 kilometres distance, and highest peak is Zubački kabao on 1894 metres above sea. It is the habitat of large carnivores, endemic plants and many other species. Domination of snowy landscape for 5 months during the year, justifies the name White Mountains.

Hundred years or even thousand years old white and black pines; thick beech forest where is sometimes hard to distinguish is it night or day; mysteriously deformed and shaped Bosnian pines which remind on creatures from fairytales; sun and clouds are changing its places like night and day; in the background proudly stand „glacial” peaks of Jastrebica, Vučiji zub and Orjen, covered with thick snow and ice until the end of May – that are the most distinct moments of this landscape. We cannot help to wonder is man only an undesired factor which threats to disturb the balance of such perfection. Just standing there reminds us how small we are and how it's hard to control and refrain the Nature. People should deny that growing human necessity of controlling everything, Nature should stay exactly as it is, wild and free, always mysterious and never revealed till the end.

The idea of the expedition was to use scientific methods to research as many as possible herbal and animal species which live on the territory of White Mountains and Orjen. Exact facts and data will help us to realize just what treasure is lying in front of us. Only then we will learn to appreciate it and save it for the next generations.

 

For all our activities we have moral support of Government an Ministry for ecology,

better anything than nothing.

Thank you for attention.

 

Dušan Toholj, envir.eng.
Biological Research Team
“Southern Blue Sky” Trebinje
Trebinjskih brigada 2, 89101 Trebinje
+387 65 594 283

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