Europe Day 2017 – Exploring Europe’s Hidden Gems (And Its Wildlife!)

Europe Day 2017 – Exploring Europe’s Hidden Gems (And Its Wildlife!)

Posted by Phoebe Codling on May 9, 2017

Europe. A diverse, rich and cultured continent made up of 51 independent states, all with distinct landscapes, wildlife and culture. With so much to offer, there’s no wonder there’s a whole day to celebrate it, and it’s on May 9th each year. For the past 67 years, Europe has celebrated the importance of peace and unity between its individual nations, and emphasised the importance of solidarity and harmony between its people, in the aftermath of World War II. This essentially led to the establishment of the European Union, which has had a particularly positive impact on global conservation and the protection of our biodiversity, allocating €1 billion towards conservation efforts between 2014-2020.

The wonderful wildlife of Europe

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: what interesting wildlife could Europe possibly have to offer? It’s true that Europe is often neglected when pondering the wonderful nature that our spectacular planet offers, with many people automatically thinking about the exotic animals that roam throughout Africa, Asia and The Americas first. However, Europe is an absolute gem for wildlife and it truly shouldn’t be underestimated. Traditionally the majority of Europe is forested, and therefore the majority of Europe’s wildlife is forest-dependent, such as European brown bears, the European bison and the Eurasian lynx. But there’s no shortage of marine life either, if that’s what floats your boat (get it? Float your boat? Never mind…). Whales, dolphins, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, puffins, are native to Europe’s waters and not to be missed.

So here’s the ‘Bear Necessities’ of what you need to know…

Brown bear

First up on our little list of Europe’s incredible offerings is the stunning European Brown Bear. Whilst extinct in the British Isles and the Netherlands, the European Brown Bear can still be found in considerable pockets of Europe, particularly in Romania, Finland and Scandinavia. Often depicted as animals that only roam the magnificent mountains of North America, brown bears are more commonplace in Europe than most people imagine with around 17,000 wandering Europe’s lands. Adult male brown bears typically weigh around 350kg at their peak, although the highest weight recorded was a whopping 480kg, found in the forests of Romania. You wouldn’t want to get into a scrap with a bear that size, that’s for sure! They have an omnivorous and seasonal diet, consuming fruit, insects, nuts, and occasionally other animals such as sheep. Once upon a time, 80% of a bear’s diet would be carnivorous; nowadays, it has decreased to around 15%. Whilst bears have been extinct in Britain since at least 1000AD due to unsustainable levels of hunting, the population of bears are slowly rising and these cuddly (sort of) creatures are no longer threatened with extinction in Europe due to various conservation projects in place. If like me, bears are one of your fave animals (they’re just sooo cute!), why not have a look at volunteering at a bear sanctuary?

Eurasian wolf

Next up on our grand tour of Europe’s native creatures, is the mighty Eurasian Wolf. Often the subject of folklore and fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, anyone?) around 12,000 Eurasian wolves roam Europe in packs as far north as Sweden, and as far south as Turkey. Romania and Spain have some of the highest population levels, with around 3000 wolves wandering the landscape in each country, and levels are even increasing in Germany and Poland. Typically, Eurasian wolves weigh in at around 40kg and are only slightly different from their American counterparts, having a longer, higher pitched howl and slimmer head than those across the pond. Whilst the wolf population of Europe is currently deemed stable, many countries such as Finland have considered a nationwide cull on these magnificent and relatively harmless creatures. I personally have fallen deeply in love with wolves since binge watching Game of Thrones and have decided that I obviously need one in my life for it to be truly fulfilled. Though, in reality, I might just have to settle for a trip to see them roaming their natural habitat instead!

Wolverine

Similar in name, but worlds apart, is the Wolverine. Now I know Hugh Jackman might have just popped into your mind, but bear with me. Wolverines are bear-like in appearance, but are actually a member of the weasel family. They only live in a small pocket of Europe, namely in Scandinavia, but are classed as one of the four large carnivores throughout Europe, with around 1200 spread across Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notoriously vicious animals that kill reindeer and sheep on a regular basis, their ferociousness is not to be underestimated! Now, when you consider that wolverines are only around 14kg on average, in comparison to an absolute minimum average weight of 80kg for a reindeer, you can see how truly vicious they must be! I think I might give wolverine spotting a miss this year…

Eurasian lynx

The last of Europe’s four predators, is the Eurasian Lynx. Roughly the size of a large domestic dog, Eurasian lynxes on average weigh around 20kg and are characterised by their striking fur which varies in colour depending on the season, changing from reddish brown in the summer to silver-grey in the winter. Strict carnivores, Eurasian lynxes like to feed on hares and reindeer, as opposed to their Canadian counterparts who feed on much smaller animals like mice and squirrels. The Eurasian Lynx is so skilled at hunting their prey, that they can spot a mouse 250 feet away! I can barely see ten feet in front of me without my glasses on, so kudos to the Lynx! Finland, Romania and the Carpathian Mountains are home to thousands of lynxes, and Europe’s lynx population stands at approximately 9000 in total, and hopefully that number will only increase.

Pine marten

Now, my favourite of all the animals native to Europe is (in my opinion) the cutest of them all! The Pine Marten resides all over Europe and are part of the weasel family (just like the wolverine mentioned above). Pine martens are teeny tiny, weighing only 1.5kg on average and measuring only 52cm in length. Preferring to dwell in dense forests, they tend to make dens in hollowed out tree trunks. These cute creatures are omnivorous, but prefer snacking on birds and small rodents and apparently have quite the penchant for autumnal berries! Mainly active at night, they are consequently hard to spot, particularly in the British Isles where numbers are low but steadily increasing due to conservation efforts by the government. Do you think you could get one as a pet? I’m just asking for a friend…

Blue whales in the Azores

This is all going swimmingly don’t you think? We’ve reached the end of our European animal tour and I think it’s time we introduced you to someone that’s a just a little bit bigger than the rest. One of the most incredible animals to grace this fine Earth is one that you might not necessarily think could live in Europe’s glorious waters. Well, think again! Blue Whales roam the waters in the Azores, an archipelago around 1500 km west of Portugal and it’s one of the best places in the world to spot them in their natural habitat. Blue whales are the largest animal on Earth, weighing up to 200 tonnes (to put that into perspective, that’s eleven double decker buses!) and reaching lengths of 105 ft – five times taller than a giraffe!! I don’t know about you, but I find that size hard to comprehend. Despite their gargantuan size however, whales almost exclusively feed on tiny crustaceans called krill, consuming up to four tonnes a day at some points of the year. In the early 20th century, thousands of whales were killed for their blubber and bones which were used to make lipstick and corsets, and numbers have never really recovered. Unfortunately, whilst the majority of countries nowadays have strict laws on whaling; Iceland, Norway and Japan have defied these laws and still cruelly hunt these majestic animals. However, despite their endangered classification, levels of whales are slowly rising due to increased efforts to protect them. If, like me, you find whales fascinating, why not look into taking part in a conservation project and contribute to the protection of these spectacular creatures!

If you’ve had a whale of a time reading this article, why not take a look at some of the fab projects that we offer in Europe? Check ‘em out!


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