Environmentalists want Albania’s sole Balkan lynx sanctuary a protected area

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 25, 2018 14:51

Environmentalists want Albania’s sole Balkan lynx sanctuary a protected area

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  • The Northeast Albania Munella Mountain is home to only four Balkan lynxes, whose presence in the area is critically endangered by illegal hunting and logging despite moratoriums in place as well as intentional fires and mining operations, environmentalists say

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TIRANA, July 25 – Albanian environmentalists want a northeastern mountain region that is the country’s sole sanctuary of the critically endangered Balkan lynx to be declared a protected area.

Local environmental watchdog the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, says declaring the Munella Mountain a protected area would save the current handful of Balkan lynx from human-caused extinction and protect several other locally endangered species breeding there such as the brown bear, the wolf, the wild goat and the roe deer.

The Northeast Albania Munella Mountain is home to only four Balkan lynxes, whose presence in the area is critically endangered by illegal hunting and logging despite moratoriums in place as well as intentional fires and mining operations, environmentalists say.

Experts estimate there are only about 40 adult Balkan lynx in Munella which is one of the top two breeding sites in the region after Macedonia’s Mavrovo national park where plans to develop hydropower plants were dropped last year after major banks withdrew funds following environmental pressure by watchdogs concerned over the destruction of Balkan lynx’s natural habitat.

“The protected area status would reduce human pressure on the Balkan lynx population, its prey and habitat with a positive impact on the recovery of the Balkan lynx in Albania. The protected status would also give the poor and neglected area of Munella in the country an opportunity to have a development alternative focused on sustainable environmental and social development,” say PPNEA experts.

Munella is also home to a large copper plant, which is the biggest employer in the area.

However, despite continuous lobbying for the past four years, environmentalists have failed to convince central and local government authorities of the importance of declaring Munella a protected area.

The presence of the Balkan lynx was first documented at the Munella Mountain in 2011 through camera traps. In 2015, two Balkan lynx cubs were found dead in the area, one of which shot dead by a local farmer apparently not aware of its protection and afraid of any possible attack to farm animals.

“Although the presence of a small Balkan lynx population makes the Munella region unique and important, the Balkan Lynx continues to face the threat of illegal human activities,” environmentalists say.

Environmentalists says illegal hunting and logging continued even this year at Munella where blank cartridges and cut down trees were pictured, despite moratoriums in place to protect Albania’s declining forest areas and endangered fauna species.

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium to put an end to uncontrolled and illegal hunting, which has decimated wildlife populations in the country over the last two and a half decades after the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s.

The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania has earlier warned illegal logging in the Munella Mountain, the country’s sole sanctuary of the Balkan lynx, is further putting at risk one of the most threatened wildlife species in serious danger of extinction.

Last November, camera traps also revealed the presence of the Balkan lynx at the Nikaj-Merturi regional nature park in northeastern Albania bordering Kosovo.

Back in 2015, the Balkan lynx was listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.

“The continuous presence of the Balkan Lynx is so far only confirmed for Macedonia and Albania in two separate, but relatively close locations, therefore the population is considered to consist of two subpopulations. Camera-trapping surveys resulted in a single observation from Kosovo, possibly a dispersing animal,” says IUCN.

“The presence of the Balkan Lynx in Montenegro and Greece is presently regarded as unlikely. The only known area with reproduction is Mavrovo National Park and its vicinity in Macedonia, the larger and eastern of the two subpopulations,” adds the Switzerland-based organization.

Protected areas represent about 16 percent of Albania’s territory and range from national parks to natural monuments, parks, landscapes and wetlands.

Watchdogs have warned hydropower plants in protected areas are inflicting serious damage to nature and biodiversity.

In 2017, a new law on protected areas finally forbid the construction of hydropower plants in Albania national parks, but this move comes too late for those plants such as Rapuni located at the Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park, east of Albania close to the Macedonia border.

In late 2017, animal rights activists submitted more than 37,000 signatures in a petition addressed to MPs seeking to make animal cruelty punishable by fines and even imprisonment by amending the country’s Criminal Code.

The initiative, which has not been examined yet by Parliament, comes amid a rise in reported cases of animal abuse thanks to technology.

Brown hares and bears being killed and advertised as trophies on social networks or endangered species such as the Balkan Lynx kept embalmed at restaurant bars in addition to caged bear cubs held in captivity are some of the cases the PPNEA watchdog has identified.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 25, 2018 14:51