Several times have we tried to see bears in the wild. In Serbia, for instance, we sat in a photo hide for hours and in other countries we walked kilometres through bear territory. But each time we had to leave without success! This time, in the high mountains of the Slovakian Tatras, it was supposed to be different. One of the wildest parts of Europe offers some fantastic chances to see these giants in their natural habitat, and much more!
Written by Anskar & Lea
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Into the Wild
It’s five o’clock in the morning and the alarm ring bells. Still tired from our night in the tent we start driving. Our goal is a meeting point somewhere in the western Tatras we previously arranged with Erik. Erik is the owner of Adventoura Slovakia, a company offering a wide variety of adventurous tours and activities throughout Slovakia. From hiking through the ruggedgorges of the Slovakian Paradise to dog sledding in the cold winter months everything is represented. But our choice fell on something even more adventurous: a bear watching hike through the wilderness of Slovakia!
From the meeting point we started our hike through a forest of densely arranged spruce trees. At parts, they almost resemble cultivated monocultures which can be found in many parts of Europe with the great exception that here everything looks much wilder. The ground is covered in blueberries, the perfect vitamin bomb for bears, birds and other wildlife in the autumn season. You will also find dead wood everywhere, from low on the forest floor until high up in the tree tops. Dead wood is what makes a natural forest truly wild. It is of incredible importance to insects and certain bird species, such as the Three-toed woodpecker. Insects that live in the decaying wood are yet another nutritious food source for bears.
The Valley of Wildlife
Once we left the natural spruce forest behind us, we found ourselves standing in a valley surrounded by green mountain slopes to both sides. And here the adventure truly began! From now on the whole group, five participants in total, were asked to constantly scan the open patches on both slopes for any wildlife activity. Earlier our guide Erik handed out some binoculars which soon prove to be very valuable when detecting our very first large mammal. It was a magnificent Red deer stag that was grazing peacefully in the far distance! With time passing by we saw even more Red deer as well as some Chamois.
But then Lea suddenly spotted something else, something larger, something unknown. It didn’t take us long to realize that, after all this time searching, we have found our very first European brown bear. A lone bear was slowly walking along the slope in search for food. It was a massive male just around 500m away from us with nothing but mountain pines and bare rocks separating us. A feeling of pure excitement took hold of us! After observing the male bear for quite a while, we lost sight of him and continued our way upwards. Through a jungle of ferns and across roaring rivers we almost reached the mountain ridge when we eventually decided to turn around. Touristic traffic increased and with that the chances to see any more bears decreased by the minute.
But then, we were already hiking downwards, it was Lea again who saw something in the distance. This time, even without raising her binoculars, she was sure that it must be a bear. But it was not just one bear! It was a whole family, consisting of a mother bear with her three cubs! Our heart made a leap for joy and we quickly sat down to calmly observe the scene. It felt so unreal that we had to constantly remind ourselves that this is indeed truly happening!
The bear family was playing around and searching for food, while mainly eating on grass and other greens. A Brown bears diet consists to 70-90% of veggies depending on location and availability of food. Unlike wolves, lynx or other predators, bears are not active hunters bur rather collect and scavenge for food. This astonishing fact was incredible to observe in nature and we hardly could take our eyes off the bear family. What an experience!
Unlike many other tour operators, Adventoura Slovakia does not use any hides and hence does not bait or feed the animals. Baiting wild animals such as bears is very problematic because with time the animals will lose their shyness and connect the food to human activity. In the end, it’s the local farmers that have to pay the price for this as the bears then start to target rural villages, beehives or pastures in search of food.
If you go watching bears with Adventoura Slovakia it is a true wild experience and you will find yourself observing one of Europe’s heaviest mammal in its natural habitat. An experience that is truly priceless and which we can highly recommend!