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Reintroduction of Red Deer in the Eastern Rhodopes

New Thracian Gold and the National Hunting and Fishing Association - Union of Hunters and Anglers in Bulgaria work together to recover the red deer population in the Eastern Rhodopes.  In 2012 and 2013, a total of 30 red deer was released in the Studen Kladenets Game Reserve. The animals lived initially for a couple of months in an enclosure. This was done for better adaptation to the new home area. Later they were released into the wild.

The aim of this reintroduction project is to have again a vital population of free-living red deer within ten years time in this part of the Eastern Rhodopes. Like in the old times.

In 2012, fifteen red deer were translocated to Studen Kladenets from the “Ropotamo”, “Iskar” and “Eledzhik” hunting reserves. After getting acclimatized in a fenced area the animals were released into the wild. Today they inhabit the territory of the Studen Kladenets reserve and the hunting guards and NTG experts monitor their migrations. In the first year  4 fawns were born from which probably 2 survived. Part of the released animals left the territory of the Hunting reserve which surely decreases their survival chance, because outside the reserve there is considerable poaching activity.

Fifteen additional red deer from hunting reserves “Ropotamo” and “Eledzhik” were translocated to Studen Kladenets in the autumn of 2013. They were also released to the wild after a short habituation in a fenced area.  The majority of the released red deer live together in  one herd of  up to 14 animals which is regularly observed near the hunting lodges.  In adjacent terrains  two additional groups of a couple of animals roam the fields. The introduction of a few groups in successive years is a good procedure to establish a viable red deer population.

The red deer is one of the characteristic wild animals to be found on paintings in ancient Thracian tombs. Unfortunately, in recent times it got almost extinct in our region as a result of poaching. Only a few dozen deer managed to escape extermination in border areas of Eastern and Western Rhodope mountains and in the state hunting reserve „Zhenda“.

The red deer (Cervus elaphus) is one of the largest deer species. It inhabits most of Europe, the Caucasus Mountains region, Asia Minor, parts of western Asia, and central Asia and the Atlas mountains in Africa.

It is an even-toed ruminant like camel, goat and cattle. There are subtle differences in appearance between the various subspecies of red deer across Europe, primarily in size and antlers. Size varies in different subspecies with the largest, the huge but small-antlered deer of the Carpathian mountains (C. e. elaphus), weighing up to 500 kg. At the other end of the scale, the Corsican red deer (C. e. corsicanus) weighs about 80 to 100 kg, although red deer in poor habitats can weigh as little as 53 to 112 kg.

European red deer tend to be reddish-brown in their summer coats. During the autumn, red deer grows a thicker coat of hair which helps to insulate them during the winter. Autumn is the mating season and the red deer rut is a very spectacular event. The stags grow their neck manes and the antlers are fully developed. The powerful males collect a harem and fight with competitor males. Loud burling and antler fights are very impressive.

Red deer feed on grass, buds, leaves, twigs, roots and other vegetation.

Main part of the year the animals live in small uni-sex herds composed only of males or females. The sexes only mix in the mating season.

In mountainous areas red deer generally spend their winters at lower altitudes, in more wooded terrain. This also works fine as anti-predator behavior. During the summer, they migrate to higher elevations where food supplies are greater and better for the calving season.

Only the stags have antlers which start growing from March to April, and until they reach maturity in July and August are covered with a fine velvet skin. Maximum antler size is reached around 10 year age. When the animal becomes older, the antlers get reduced size. The red deer is a polygamous animal. Females come into season in the second half of September; this is when the rutting season starts. Youngs are born in May and June. The lactation lasts 3-4 months. The young stay with their mother till the next year.

The European red deer is one of the largest game animals found in Europe. The Bulgarian population of the red deer is concentrated mainly in the hunting reserves and the national parks. The poaching is the main limiting factor for the larger distribution of this beautiful animal.

(pic. Bill Ebbesen)

(pic. Marek Szczepanek)



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