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Wildlife In Bulgaria

Bulgaria is becoming an increasingly alluring destination for fanatics of all-things wildlife and environmental, Quest Bulgaria introduces some of the reptiles and amphibians in Bulgaria.

There are forests, caves, beaches and plains, plus three major national parks, eleven nature parks, 89 official natural reserves and an amazing 2,234 named natural sites, and thus all manner of creatures great and small can thrive in beautiful Bulgaria's many regions.

A group of animals being shown great interest in by conservationists and scientists at the moment are frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, newts, tortoises, turtles and terrapins, which are collectively known in the animal kingdom as ‘herpetofauna', or, reptiles and amphibians, to you and me!

Although some people are repelled by these supposedly slimy critters, herpetofauna experts are going doo-lally at the amount of species there are available to study in Bulgaria. In fact, Bulgaria can boast that it has the most varied and largest number of herpetofauna in the whole of Europe, which is an impressive diversity considering Bulgaria's limited size (111,000 km2). In the land and water on Bulgarian territory, there are around 52 species of amphibians and reptiles, including some 48 species which are actually permanent residents.

There are certain areas, along the Southern Black Sea coastline, where in the space of only several square kilometres, around 31 different species of amphibians and reptiles can be found!

Some species are referred to as guests, which come and go on the Bulgarian Black Sea coastline. Two such creatures are the sea turtles Chelonia mydas and Caretta caretta. The Caretta caretta, also known as the loggerhead turtle, is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle alive today. It can be found in any of the world's temperate and tropical oceans.

The Chelonia mydas is better known as the common green sea turtle and is also large in comparison to other turtles. The only time these turtles emerge from the sea is when they are nesting, and one interesting fact is that the female sea turtle will always return to the beach to lay eggs where their mother and grandmothers have nested before them.

Zoologists categorise Bulgarian herpetofauna into three classes. The first class is the Northern European and European species, which are almost entirely located in the mountainous ranges and include creatures like the Viviparous Lizard (which can grow to around 18 cms in length), and the Common Frog.

The second class is the Middle and Southern European species, which are found throughout Bulgaria and include species like the Fire Salamander, the most popular salamander in Europe in nature and folklore, the Common Toad, and the Grass Snake.

The third class is the Mediterranean and Near East species, which prefer to live in the hot and low elevation areas surrounding southern Bulgaria. This class includes species like Snake-eyed Lacertid, Eurasian Sand Boas, Leopard Snake and the Caspian Turtle. The Eurasian Sand Boa is a docile species, and has an intricate pattern, which makes it alluring to own as a pet, despite the increasing rareness of its presence in the wild.

The highest of the mountain areas, for example over 2,000 meters above sea level, and the extensive agricultural areas, have a low count of herpetofauna, and usually just the common species of snake, newt, toad and frog will be found in these parts. Such areas include the Lovech Province, some areas around the Stara Planina mountain range and the Forebalkan area.

The eastern Rhodopes, the south-eastern section of the Maritsa valley, the south-easterly strip of the Black Sea coast from Bourgas and the southern portions of the Strouma River valley are the areas richest in herpetofaunial species. When walking around these parts it's common to encounter a few species without even trying.

Still within the southern region is the Balkan Crested Newt, the Common Toad, the Fire-Bellied Toad, so-called because of the pretty red, yellow or orange patterns on its stomach, and the Worm Snake. A favourite find for many people in their gardens is that of a Common Tree Free frog with the loud ‘clak-clak-clak' noise,coming from the trees and probably sounds similar to a laughing crow.

Their impressive call is variable depending on the species, but also uniquely identifies the frog itself to astute female partners. The reason for this tiny little frog's impressive racket, is because of their large larynx, which is about one-fifth of the body length. In fact, they are the loudest frogs in Europe!

Visitors to Bulgaria may feel wary about encountering venomous snakes, although bites do occur,with the right medical attention there is nothing to worry about. The only common venomous snakes are the European Adder and the Nose Horned Adder,also known as the Sand Viper,and known as Pepelyanka to Bulgarians,the latter being the most venomous Viper in Europe and possibly the most dangerous European snake. It is however not normally an aggresive snake and as with most other species of snake,it will flee before you even spot it.

What to do in the event of a snake bite;

It is unlikely, unless you are familiar with snakes in Bulgaria that you would be able to identify the snake which has bitten you,it is therefore important to seek medical attention as soon as possible,most hospitals in Bulgaria carry the anti-venom to treat the bite.

Key points to remember;

1.Once bitten stay calm,a raised heart beat will only accelarate the circulation of the venom leading to a premature onset of the symptoms.
2.The wound should, where possible be kept below the area of the heart to slow the process of venom circulation.A tounoquet tied tightly above the wound is a good idea
3.NEVER be tempted to try to find the snake that bit you,whether to identify or to kill it as will be long gone and you are delaying your treatment.
4.when you arrive at the hospital give as much information to the medical staff,a description of the snake,time of the attack etc.
5. If the symptoms of the bite are advanced you must try to stay awake.

It is very unlikely that you will ever be in the position above, but it is important to understand the neccecary precautions,and even if you have been bitten there are still a number of factors that will determine the outcome and seriousnous of a bite,a snake which has recently eaten will normally have a weakened venom, the age of the snake also has an impact on the strength of the venom,a snake that is only recently out of hibernation will have a very powerful venom.

Most snakes that you will encounter in Bulgaria will be of the many harmless varieties,most commonly are the Caspian Whip Snake and the Aesculapian Snake which grows up to two metres.These are a very common visitor to the garden and when your Bulgarian friends refer to a snake as 'Smok',then this is the one they mean. This snake usually is dark brown,grey and even black on the upper part of its body and yellow or orange to the underside.


The Smooth Snake is also a very common vistor and grows to around 1/2 metre in length.The colour varies similar to the Caspian Whip Snake but the Smooth Snake has distinctive dark spots running down its back.

In areas with water you can encounter 2 other types of snakes,the Grass Snake and the Dice Snake.These are without doubt the most placid of snakes to be found in Bulgaria,even when handled these snakes rarely bite,although they do have a defence system which can be unpleasent. Both of these snakes if handled become nervous and release a foul smelling odour in the hope that they will be released. Both also can hiss loudly and even strike,with their mouths closed.
The Grass Snake at first sight can resemble the Smooth Snake but the Grass Snake has a unique collar of yellow/orange around its neck.
The Dice Snake is light to dark brown with dark speckles,it earned its name from the spotted dice pattern on the underneath of its body.

 


 

The tourism related to Bulgarian herpetofauna is still in its very early stages, unlike the feathered friends of the animal kingdom, who have flocks of tourists signing up on package holidays or going it alone to see what species of bird they can spot. Therefore, the public awareness of the protective status of Bulgaria's reptiles and amphibians is considered at the moment to be unsatisfactory. However, a special order from the Ministry of Environment has been passed not only to protect against damage, injury or elimination of amphibians and reptiles, but also from the actual capture of specimens. Ongoing talks have also been taking place since EU entry to help step up the preservation of Bulgaria's impressive herpetofauna community.

There are examples of areas that are under special protection to maintain reproductive cycles of endangered, or particularly interesting, breeds. One area near Botevgrad, north-east from Sofia is such an example. Its marshy land is home to the migratory population of a particular species of common frog known as ‘Rana temporaria'. This species are usually a brownish-green or olive colour, and won't crawl like their toady counterparts, preferring instead to stick to just hopping.

Some species also face endangerment from commercial exploitation, and it's true that if you pop into any pet shop they will have a tank full of terrapins for sale, as well as other turtles and tortoises. They are often not kept well in the pet shop and are cheap to buy as a novelty for kids, which soon wear off. The two species of dry land tortoises are also classed as endangered thanks to exportation in the pet trade. The species in question, the once widely populating Spur-thighed tortoise (which is known to reach ages of an incredible 110-120 years!), and the Hermanns tortoise, are now protected by many acts including the Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Penal Code of Bulgarian Republic, to name just two. These magnificent tortoises are now usually only encountered in the Territory of Eastern Rhodopes Mountain, Sakar Mountain, Derventski Vazvishenija Hills, Stranja Mountain and south Struma Valley as well as the lowlands of the ranging mountains.

Only a few decades ago, it was commonplace to see these slow-plodders most places in Bulgaria.

Apart from the pet trade, there are other factors contributing to the decrease of the tortoises, like global warming leading to confusing changes in climate, the young eggs being preyed on, predation, urbanisation and intensive agriculture.

Luckily, there are many other groups urging a change in the conscientiousness of Bulgarian amphibians and reptiles, including of course, the very budding wildlife tourism. What was once one of the least visited corners of Eastern Europe, Bulgaria is now an increasingly popular destination for bespoke holidays. Companies such as Naturetrek, Branta tours and BBFS who specialise in natural history and wildlife holidays, now organise long weekends tracking various Bulgarian wildlife including herpetofauna, and of course offer the tours in conjunction with other Bulgarian must-sees and dos, like the monasteries, mountains, cities and indeed, the food and wine!

Inhabitants of Bulgaria, including ex-pats of course, can also help to preserve this incredible variety of amphibians and reptiles, by simply respecting their environments and using common sense. Be careful when walking through areas that could be populated by smaller creatures that might get trodden on, don't feel the need to kill a snake if you encounter one in your garden - there are other ways of removing it, and do your bit to ensure endangered species don't continue to be exploited by the pet trade. The idea of a rare species terrarium may sound nice, but these creatures belong in the wild. Most importantly of all, enjoy the presence of these creatures and make sure you keep a camera at the ready should you stumble across a rare one!