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  • Writer's pictureŽiva M. Brecelj

Meeting bears in Slovenia

The area of a Central European country Slovenia is almost 3/5 covered by woods. As with forests come also wildlife, we can say that Slovenia is one of the greenest and richest European countries when it comes to wild animals.

While visiting Slovenia, I stayed in Ljubljana, but at least three times a week I got in the car and drove half an hour from the city to the wildest nature. Notranjska region, Karst and Kočevje forest in the south and south-west from Ljubljana were my favorites and at the same time home to most Slovenian brown bears.

Brown bears live in the mild zone of the northern hemisphere. According to current data, we can find approximately 1,000 brown bears in Slovenia. Notranjska regional park with its 222 square kilometers mountainous landscape, green meadows, clear streams, Bloke plateau, Karsic intermittent lake of Cerknica, mysterious underground world, and endless forests is one of the Slovenian brown bear homelands. Also, the mighty and most known resident of Kočevje area with its vast wild old-growth-forest is the bear.

Staying in Ljubljana is the best starting point to experience the luxury of silent, pure and intact nature, you can find just a couple of dozens of kilometers from the vivid city centre. However, you can invert the classical touristic base and replace a city hotel with staying at the farm or rent a cottage in the countryside, visiting the city only here and there. A distance from the urban noises, groups of tourists and rush hours could be the best opportunity to enjoy the countryside lifestyle, tasty locally-produced food and learn about wildlife. Besides admiring the beautiful natural areas, you can follow the footsteps of the brown bear and get in touch with them in their natural habitat. And that's what I did.

To learn about the biodiversity of Southern Slovenia and experience a real meeting with the majestic animal, the bear watching is one of the must-do things. Just a short walk from the parking lot through the forest, a wildlife guide took us to the bear watching location. In the meantime, the guide explained the major facts about the brown bear. We learned that the European brown bear can grow up to 250 cm in length, a male can weigh more than 200 kg and live up to 35 years. Despite its clumsy appearance, a bear is an excellent runner, swimmer and climber.

Once we arrived at the hut, we had to stay in total silence. Although the hut is smell-isolated, it's better to leave the food in the car, so the bear wouldn't smell it. From the hunter's hut, we enjoyed the perfect view and silence. Since the number of bears in Slovenia has been constantly and rapidly growing, you will actually see them every time. In the wild, bears rarely approach humans. When they smell a human being they go in the other direction, so you probably never meet them. That is why the observance hut is smell-isolated, allowing bears to come so close. As the bear isn't the only resident of the area, the visitors also see foxes, deers and roe deers, dormice, wolves, badgers, and other wild animals.

And there's another important thing to mention: the bear watching is totally safe. When I went to my first guided bear watching, I had some concerns and I also thought that a bear wouldn't show up. But it did! Not just one. We were very lucky, as the guide told us, to see the mamma bear with its cub. As the guide knew all about the bear behavior and the area as his own pocket he knew the bear was coming by hearing the noise of the vegetation, branches and twigs breaking under the bear's paws. When we saw it, it was an amazing view and the bear was huge! It was such a breathtaking and adrenaline experience. Of course, I was scared a bit. But when we noticed that there was another teddy bear shagging and following its mother, the feelings were indescribably ecstatic.

On my way back to the car I was thinking about our coexistence with nature. What I learned that day was that if we leave the animals to their natural habitat and respectfully visit the place they call home, they will probably never attack us. One of the most important things we learn from nature is respect. If we would always apply it in our everyday relations, the world would be such a better place.

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