North Macedonia’s parliament voted to create a national park in the Sharr mountains. Conservationists hope the new park will bring back the critically endangered Balkan lynx.
There are less than 50 adult Balkan lynxes left in the world. Habitat loss and poaching are the main reason the animals are almost extinct. Conservationists say that some cafeterias across the Balkans still display lynx hunting trophies.
A majority of 66 members of parliament in North Macedonia voted for the ‘Sharr Mountain National Park’ on Wednesday. The United Nations (UN) Environment Programme called the decision “historic” after more than 27 years of debate.
Since the park is partly in Albania and Kosovo, the move will create one of Europe’s largest transboundary protected areas of more than 2,400 square kilometres, the UN added.
The Sharr Mountains were of “crucial and significant importance to European biodiversity,” said UN Environment Programme project coordinator Sonja Gebert.
“Their (the lynx’s) ecosystem was simply broken and they did not have the possibility to reproduce, to roam around freely and what this national park will achieve, especially in this strict protection zone is that, whatever is built until now, there is no further degradation and they will be simply given space to reproduce, they will be given space to survive,” Gebert told Reuters.
As well as being the last home of the Balkan Lynx, the area is home to the brown bear and numerous other species, she added.
The Balkan lynx was listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered in 2015 — the final category before extinction in the wild.
Most remaining adult Balkan lynxes are currently thought to be living in a Macedonian park in the south, Boris Erg, director of the IUCN regional office, told Reuters.
“This new protected area in North Macedonia would not only expand the core zone for the Balkan lynx, but would also close an important gap and hence allow the core population to expand to the north,” Erg added.
Usually, lynxes eat deer, hares and foxes, but because they have less space to hunt, they sometimes attack sheep, making them a target for local farmers.
To try to protect them, North Macedonia has also passed rules offering compensation to farmers for sheep losses.
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