While some environmentalists claim that the annual winter hunting season leaves less than 150 wolves in Slovakia, official game statistics list more than 1,500: a huge difference! And it's a similar situation with lynx. Are predators being hunted towards extinction, as the environmentalists say, or becoming too numerous, as hunters claim? The dispute shows the clear need for reliable, objective methods to estimate numbers of predators.
The White Wilderness project brings together international volunteers and local people, nature conservationists, foresters, landowners and hunters. Under the close supervision of experienced project staff, volunteers track wolves and lynx and collect samples for DNA analysis, which will allow us to determine the minimum number of animals in the area as well as to detect changes which could require urgent intervention.
Lying between the Tatra National Park to the north and the Low Tatras National Park to the south, the spectacular region of Liptov is a real treat for lovers of nature and the outdoors. Around 50% is covered by forests, which reach up to 1500m (5000 feet) above sea level. Beyond that is a zone of dwarf pine and higher still are alpine meadows. In the winter, much of the wildlife, including carnivores and their prey, move to the foothills and valleys to avoid the deepest snow, and it is here that most of our fieldwork will be focussed.
In 2011, winter fieldwork will be done during a 3-week period. You can take part for 1 week, 2 weeks or all 3 weeks. Groups of up to 12 people plus one researcher and one leader.
Week 1: 22 January - 28 January (6 places left)
Week 2: 29 January - 04 February (7 places left)
Week 3: 05 February - 11 February (10 places left)
Sleeping and meals
Groups will stay in a fully renovated guesthouse with showers and modern amenities, situated in wooded surroundings at the edge of Nízke Tatry (Low Tatras) National Park. The shared bedrooms sleep 2–4 people each and there is a dining/common room. Meals provided on field days will be: buffet breakfast, packed lunch, cooked dinner.
For 1 week (6 nights): £810
For 2 weeks (13 nights): £1370
For 3 weeks (20 nights): £1900
This cost covers including in-country travel to and around the research area and to/from the meeting point, accommodation, food, provision of equipment, training and the services of local researchers, helpers and the team leader, WorkingAbroad Projects backup and support. They do not include travel to/from Slovakia, extra costs if staying in Bratislava before pick up or after drop off, insurance or personal spending money. All participants must take out adequate medical and travel insurance.
No special skills (biological or otherwise) are required other than the ability to communicate in English. However, you should be prepared to walk 10–20 km per day in hilly to mountainous terrain, sometimes on steep slopes. In winter months, snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures are likely to be encountered. It is your responsibility to have your fitness and physical condition checked by a medical and dental professional prior to departure. If you have an existing or previous illness/disability, which could affect your mental or physical condition during the conservation programme you must consult your doctor about your suitability to join the conservation programme and inform us. On some routes, snow shoes may be required and will be provided. Don't worry if you haven't used them before, it's not difficult and you will be given instruction and time to practice. If you are a competent cross-country or alpine skier and have your own equipment, feel free to bring it along.
How to get to Bratislava
You will have to arrange to travel to Bratislava, which is the capital city of Slovakia, where the meeting point will be. RyanAir, the cheap fare airline flies to Bratislava from various parts of the UK
General information on Tatra National Park:
The National Park of Tatras (TANAP) in the north of Slovakia, was founded in 1949. It covers the high-mountain area of the Tatras and it is the unique protected area of flora and fauna among the tallest European high mountains situated east of the Alps. The TANAP contains mountain and high-mountain plants such as dwarf pine, pine woods and a wonderful flora. Rare animal species such as the eagle, bear, or marmot live there as well. The chamois is the symbol of Tatras. It is one of the most precious species, as it developed in isolation since the glacial age.
January and February are the coldest months of the year - expect lots of snow and temperatures potentially down to -20 degrees celsius. You will generally get about 9 hours of daylight a day. A detailed list of what to bring will be sent once you have booked - but just as an idea, you should bring sturdy boots for walking on the snow and ice, a down filled waterproof outfit, hat, gloves, and scarf (or scarves!). Long underwear is perfect to wear under clothing every day. For snow shoeing or nordic skiing, winter sports clothing is good such as insulated skiing gear.