European Wildlife Travel Index# Discover
Although Europe is best known for its art cities, museums, historical monuments and fascinating architectural styles, the diversity of wildlife that can be seen in many natural areas and parks is astonishing. From the wily Eurasian Lynx deep in the deciduous forests of Ukraine and Scandinavia to the colourful puffin that turns up in large numbers off the coast of Britain.
You don’t need to cross an ocean to catch a glimpse of the fascinating natural world, when there is so much to see close to home. PaulCamper has analysed which European countries can offer you the ultimate wildlife holiday, based on the number of wild animals, national parks and protected areas.
Wildlife Travel Index Europe
Some key takeaways from the natural world
Europe’s 10 best countries for a holiday in the wilderness
Safari in Europe – The Big Five
Although countries such as France, Italy and Spain score high in terms of biodiversity and nature conservation areas, it is in the east and north that you have the greatest chance of encountering Europe’s “Big Five” in the wild: the brown bear, the grey wolf, the lynx, the bison and the wolverine.
Total number in Europe:
- Brown bear: 17,000
- Grey wolf: 17,000
- Lynx: 8,000 – 9,000
- Bison: 6,200
- Wolverine: 1000 -1250
The brown bear
There was a time when the brown bear was found practically all over Europe. However, with the clearing of forests, the animals were forced to retreat to remote areas that were less accessible to humans, causing them to disappear in most countries. The global brown bear population is over 200,000 individuals, of which approximately 100,000 live in Russia.
Where is the brown bear best seen?
Romania (6000) , Sweden (3000) and Finland (2000)
What is the best time to see bears?
The best time is in spring, when they are hungry hunting for food, or in autumn, when they are eating greedily in preparation for winter.
The grey wolf
The grey wolf has long been found in large numbers in certain areas of Europe, but a long history of hunting and persecution led to their near extinction in western and central Europe. Since the second half of the 20th century, the animal has been protected in most European countries, leading to its reappearance in 28 countries in Europe, including the Netherlands and Germany.
Where is the grey wolf best seen?
Poland (2500), Romania (2500) and Spain (2000-3000).
What is the best time to see wolves?
In the winter months (December to March). This is their breeding season, so they are actively looking for mates and forming packs.
The lynx was also once widespread in Europe. The medium-sized wild cat was nearly exterminated due to loss of habitat, poaching and the depletion of prey. From the 1970s onwards, however, lynxes were given legal protection and reintroduction programmes were initiated. Currently, there are approximately 9000 Eurasian Lynx in Europe, of which 2300-2400 live in the Carpathians, 1200 – 1500 in Romania, 500 in Ukraine and 300-350 in Slovakia. Between 2065 and 2170 Eurasian lynxes live in Finland, and around 1111 Iberian lynxes live in Spain.
Where is the best place to see the lynx?
The Carpathians (2300 -2400) and Finland (2065-2170), Spain (1111).
What is the best time to see the lynx?
The Eurasian lynx is best spotted from late October to early May. For the Iberian lynx in Spain, the best time to travel is from December to May.
The European bison
The European bison, or wisent, became extinct in the wild in 1919. Europe’s largest living land animal was often killed in the past for their skin and meat, and in the Middle Ages for producing drinking horns. Thanks to various Rewilding projects, several thousand are now living again in a handful of countries. The largest concentration of free-living bison can be found in Bialowieza National Park in Poland (2048). They have also been reintroduced in the Netherlands and Romania, with about 60 bison in Noord-Brabant and the Veluwe and 65 animals in the Southern Carpathians.
Where is the European bison best seen?
Poland (2048), Romania (65) and the Netherlands (60)
What is the best time to see the bison?
The best months are July and August, when the herds appear in open plains for the mating season, or January to March, when there is less foliage and the bison can be seen better.
The Wolverine: Scandinavia
In the high alpine regions and deep forests of northern Europe, there is an animal that is almost unknown to many people: the wolverine or wolverine. The wolverine is an enormously strong animal with a high temperament – even pumas and brown bears prefer to avoid it – which earns its living under harsh conditions. Its population has been declining steadily since the 19th century due to animal traps, the reduction of its range and the disappearance of its habitat. The endangered animal is best spotted in Sweden (650) and Norway (382).
Where is the wolverine best seen?
Sweden (650) and Norway (382).
What is the best time to see a wolverine?
The wolverine can be spotted from March to the beginning of October, with mid-May to July as the best months when it is light almost 24 hours a day.
Tips to discover wildlife ethically
Sanne Kuijpers, wildlife campaign manager at the World Animal Protection organisation, gives some tips for an animal-friendly holiday. As a tourist, you can help animals by avoiding attractions with wild animals. For example by:
- Don’t have your picture taken with a wild animal
- No cuddling, walking or swimming with wild animals
- No feeding, washing or riding elephants
- Don’t go to shows where wild animals do tricks (circuses or dolphin shows)
- Only visit truly animal-friendly shelters, where no interaction with wild animals is possible and where animals are not bred to keep young.
- Or admire wild animals in the wild, from a suitable distance.
The Wildlife Index Score is designed to assess which countries are best to visit for observing diverse wildlife. It is a ranking that includes 7 dimensions: bird score, amphibian score, reptile score, fish score, mammal score, national park score and protected area score. Each score ranges from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).
The bird score indicates how many wild bird species can be found in the country compared to the other countries in the ranking. Formula: 1 + (total number of bird species in this country / maximum number of bird species in the whole ranking) * 10
The amphibian score indicates how many wild amphibian species are found in the country compared to the other countries in the ranking. Formula: 1 + (total number of bird species in this country / max number of bird species in the whole ranking) * 10
Number of reptiles represents the number of wild reptile species found in the country compared to the other countries in the ranking. Formula: 1 + (total number of bird species in this country / max number of bird species in the entire ranking) * 10
The fish score indicates the number of wild fish species found in the country compared to the other countries in the ranking. Formula: 1 + (total number of bird species in this country / maximum number of bird species in the whole ranking) * 10
Nature park score: Nature park score is a 1 to 10 score, which is determined by the total number of parks in a country: 1=0-5; 2=5-10; 3=10-15; 4=15-20; 5=20-25; 6=25-30; 7=30-35; 8=35-40; 9=40-45
The protected area score indicates how many protected natural areas a country has compared to the other countries that occur in the country. Formula: 5 + (Number of protected areas in the country / Average number of protected areas in the ranking countries) * 0.86
Sources used: Mongabay, Wikipedia, protectedplanet.net, camping.info.