13 Jun 2018 Story Ecosystems

Securing a safe haven for the Balkan lynx


The Macedonian wildcat, or Balkan lynx, is a national symbol of Macedonia and one of the rarest animals in the world.

Illegal waste dumping, construction and poaching have led to the species being classified as Critically Endangered on the Red List of threatened species, which is maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The List, which catalogues all species estimated to be at risk of extinction, is used worldwide to inform and support conservation decisions. 

Under a UN Environment project funded by the Global Environment Facility, a study is now being carried out on the natural values of Shar Mountain in Macedonia. This will feed into decisions on what activities will be permitted in a new national park that the country aims to establish. The work takes place within Macedonia’s Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning and would designate Shar Mountain as a biodiversity hotspot and protected area.

The project is also training officials in the country to develop a National Red List Index in collaboration with IUCN. This will support efforts to save endangered species and is also in line with the country’s bid to join the European Union.

Photo by Reuters

Habitat under siege

Just 60-70 Balkan lynx are now believed to roam the Balkans – mostly in Mavrovo National Park and some on Shar Mountain. Yet illegal poaching, the decline of prey, landscape degradation and construction are posing grave threats to the region’s largest cat.

“We are witnessing illegal activities – mainly hunting and construction on Shar Mountain – which have a significant impact on the living environment of the Balkan Lynx and other endangered species,” explained one of the professors involved in the biodiversity study. “Placing Shar Mountain under protection is expected to improve the status of conservation of these species, ensure a robust management of all activities in the future national park, while also ensuring sustainable socio-economic development of the region,” he said. 

Supporting national objectives

“Establishing integrated nature protection and ensuring favourable status of conservation of species and their natural habitats is a priority objective for the Macedonian Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning,” explains Biljana Zefic, former director of the Administration for Environment, Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning.

Once the national red lists have been adopted, the Nature Department will use them in their everyday work to protect, conserve and sustainably manage biodiversity.

“This will ensure improved implementation of the requirements that stem from national legislation transposing EU directives, as well as from ratified international conventions,” says Zefic.

Some 35 experts from government bodies, universities, private sector and civil associations from Macedonia, as well as representatives from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, recently attended a four-day Red List Assessor training workshop in Skopje, Macedonia. The training was organized by UN Environment and conducted by specialists from IUCN’s Red List Unit, which is based in Cambridge, England.

Photo by Reuters

Through lectures, hands-on group work, tasks and knowledge tests, the workshop provided participants with an in-depth understanding of how to assess species’ risk of extinction risk. The event covered the data required for carrying out assessments, methodology, available tools, spatial representation, and data management options, as well as an exchange of red-listing experiences from across the region. Participants gained insight into the roles that experts can play during the assessment and ways in which these can be applied at national and global level.

Participants also discussed how new information can be used to create national species Red Lists, which will now feed into next steps in Macedonia and beyond.

The full name of the UN Environment/Global Environment Facility project is “Achieving Biodiversity Conservation through the Creation and Effective Management of Protected Areas and Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Land Use Planning”.

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