Europe is part of a larger continuous landmass which includes the continents of Asia and Europe and is not completely separated like the Americas, Australia or Africa. Eastern Europe, a place of both worlds, whose differences are more historical and cultural rather than in terms of flora and fauna, with its close proximity to Africa makes this part of the world a mixture of animals from all three continents. Sadly, taking in consideration its location, Eastern Europe has seen its share of human migration, war, starvation and mostly ignorance which led to the total disappearance of many animals which once called it their home.
This may be the last time you’ll see these 10 animals from Eastern Europe
Also known as the Wisent or Carpathian Bison is a distant cousin of the American Bison which share both common genetic ancestry and bleak fate. It was hunted to extinction for food, hides, sport and drinking horns, the last of them being shot in Poland in 1919 and Georgia in 1927. There are no more living specimens in the wild and they can only be found in captivity or in natural parks in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Caucasus Mountains.
The Wisent is the largest herbivore in Europe with no natural predators except for humans and some cases of wolf and bear attacks. Its original habitat included western, central, south-eastern Europe and the Caucasus Mountains. The future of this once mighty beast looks promising; today’s total number is slightly above 4000 and is slowly growing. But because this entire population originated from only 12 original individuals the species is at risk from certain diseases and due to its big size it is unlikely it will ever be reintroduced into the wild.
9.The Bearded Vulture
This large and very distinctive bird of prey which once soared over much of the Eurasian landmass and Africa, with its wingspan of 2.7 meters (8.9 ft.) is mostly a carrion bird, hunting or scavenging over large areas. Preferring the taste of bone over everything else and relying mostly on sight rather than smell it flies at high altitudes, gliding towards its target, rarely being seen to flap its wings. It generally waits for other scavengers to finish their feast and once gone, swops down and collects the much desired prize.
They sometimes carry the remains up in the air 50-80 meters (165-265 ft.) and drops them on hard surfaces to get to the bone marrow which is highly nutritious. Tortoises, lambs or other living pray, more often than not livestock, sometimes suffer the same fate resulting in its hunting to extinction in Europe. Recently some efforts to reintroduce them into the Alpine wilderness has thus far been a success with 900 to 2,100 specimens living in the Italian, Swiss and French Alps.
The majority of the population, between 1,300 to 6,700 individuals lives in the Himalayas, Turkey and India with some smaller populations in the Middle East and Eastern Africa with only rare sightings in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and the Czech Republic. Because they mate in pairs, control a large territory and are not willing to share it with other mature individuals of the species, adding here the disappearance of food resources, the distribution and contact between mating partners is sparse and the population is in slow decline.
8. Mediterranean Monk Seal
First mentioned by Homer, Plutarch and Aristotle in their writings, the monk seal was once very abundant in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas, appearing on coins dating back to 500 BC. Today the entire population does not exceed 450 individuals, with the largest subpopulation of 300 seals existing in Greece and Turkey, the rest being scattered over the North African coastline. These creatures, even though have always been considered a good omen for sea fearers, have been hunted by fishermen who see them as a competitor for fish and constantly loosing beaches and other costal lines as their resting and birthing habitat due to human settlements and tourism and have resorted to caves only rarely males coming ashore on beaches. Efforts to save the species include the cooperation of the locals but the best hopes lie on captive breeding due to the small numbers in existence.
7. Saiga Tatarica
The Saiga Tatarica or Saiga Antelope once roamed over south Eastern Europe all the way to the semi-deserts of China, Mongolia and the steppes of Russia. This nomadic beast, with its peculiar appearance is hard to be imagined ever living in Europe, bearing a slight resemblance to the African fauna or even something out of Star Wars.
Its disappearance from Europe in the XVI century is the result of its excessive hunting for meat, hides and horns which were and still are believed to be aphrodisiacs and lead to selective hunting of young males resulting in skewed sex rations leading to a severe reproductive collapse. Today this species is classified as Critically Endangered seeing a steep reduction in population from 1,250,000 in the mid-1970s to 50,000 in 2004 caused by poaching and climate change.
6. Otis Tarda
Also known as the Great Bustard, an omnivorous bird, was spread all across the grasslands in Europe and Asia, thriving in fields abundant in insects. The main reason for its dwindling numbers is fragmentation of its natural habitat and hunting by locals for being considered mostly a pest for the ever growing crop fields. Its current largest population is in Spain with around 30,000 members and Russia with 10,000, being classified as Vulnerable and with slim chances of reappearing in Eastern Europe in next generations due in part to social and economic instability in the area.
5. Eurasian Beaver
Is a semi-aquatic mammal, the largest rodent in Europe and the second largest in the world after Capybara in South America. It can reach up to 170 cm (5.5 ft.) in length from head to tail and up to 30 kg (66 pounds) in weight. Like its North American counterpart it prefers close proximity to fresh water sources like rivers, ponds and streams, flowing through wooded areas. This guy can build burrows in river or lake banks, with colonies up to 12 individuals with one dominant monogamous pair, even building damns to regulate the flow and depth of water.
The beaver can be found in all favorable conditions on the Eurasian continent, but due to hunting it disappeared from much of Europe, Mongolia and China. Recent programs to reintroduce the species into the wild have so far been a success and future populations are expected to appear in Central Europe and the lower Danube basin.
Ancestor of all modern day cattle, this mighty herbivore with a shoulder height of 2 meters (6.5 ft.) and a weight of one metric ton (2200 pounds) once grazed over all of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, central Asia and India. By the 13th century its range was restricted to Poland, Lithuania, East Prussia, Transylvania and Moldova, the last of which having the Aurochs head as its seal on the coat of arms. The last living female was recorded to have died in Poland in 1627 , making this species extinct. Preferring life in swamp forests and river valleys, contact with the European Bison was very rare.
Studies have shown that this once believed ancestor of present day horses has only occasionally interbred with each other, genetically being two different populations. Up until three centuries ago the tarpans rage stretched across the Eurasian plateau from Spain, Germany, the Russian Steppes, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China, appearing in cave paintings dating back 20,000 years across Europe. The population went in steep decline and by the 1800s when they were only found in Eastern Europe and totally disappearing by 1969 in the Gobi Desert. By 1996 this wild horse was no longer considered extinct in the wild with its reintroduction in the Mongolian plains, numbering over 300 horses and its population slowly rising.
2. Romanian Hamster
Little is known about this small rodent, native to Romania and Bulgaria, near the Danube basin and in parts of Dobrudja. Its area of occurrence is considered to be less than 50,000 km²(31,000 miles²) but the area of occupancy is below 2000 km²(1200 miles²). It prefers rather dry grassland, rocky slopes, fields and gardens with a diet probably similar to other hamster species. Its estimated population in Romania is around 3000 mature individuals with its population in slow decline due in fact to degradation and fragmentation of its habitat.
1. European Marbled Polecat
A small nocturnal carnivore, hunting mostly at night, eating rodents, reptiles, small birds and invertebrates, has a large area of occurrence from China and Mongolia in the East to Bulgaria and Romania in the West, but with a slim density all around. A very elusive animal, with poor eyesight relying on its sense of smell is a solitary animal, spending its day in burrows underground. Faced with danger this Marbled Polecat sprays a foul-smelling secretion from its anal scent glands on and around its attacker allowing for its escape. Hunted in the past for its fur, climate change and loss of habitat due to agriculture, this creature is classified as vulnerable and is currently protected by state law in most countries it inhabits.
[tps_footer]Try thinking twice next time you’re talking a walk through the woods because this may be the last time you’ll see these 10 animals from Eastern Europe.[/tps_footer]