A study of individual territory range, food diet, migrations and habituation to humans of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) in the territory of Stara Planina Mountain, respectively in Central Balkan National Park.

Wild Balkans Field School

Project type: Field school & workshops. Suitable for both beginner and advanced students as well as wildlife enthusiasts. Individual program and task assignments are available to advanced students.

Site: Central Balkan National Park in Stara Planina mountain, Bulgaria.

Issues focus by the project: Behavior and Population of the Brown Bear.

Project venue: Accomodation is situated within 30 km (20 miles) away from the working field area in a cozy family hotels and guest houses in the resort towns of Apriltsi, Kalofer, Cherny Osam etc.

Project partners: Balkani Wildlife Society, BAS, SU (Bulgaria)

Research director: Vladimir Todorov

Research co-director and field school coordinator: Iliya Todorov

Field school sessions available:

  • Three-week session: 15 May – 04 June, 2016
  • Two-week session: 15 May – 28 May, 2016
  • Two-week session: 08 June – 22 June, 2016
  • Two-week session: 27 June – 10 July, 2016
  • Three-week session: 01 September – 21 September, 2016
  • Two-week session: 01 September – 14 September, 2016
  • Three-week session: 19 September – 09 September, 2016
  • Two-week session: 19 September – 02 October, 2016
  • Three-week session: 10 October – 30 October, 2016
  • Two-week session: 10 October – 23 October, 2016

Minimum length of stay: Two weeks

Minimum age: 18

Number of field school places available: Maximum 7

Minimum field school attendants: 2

Project language: English

Experience required: No

Special requirements: The average summer temperature in the area is 10-25°C. Participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for hot and sunny weather but should consider also possible rainy, windy and chilly days.  Participants will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.


central balkan

The Site and the Research Project

A study of individual territory range, food diet, migrations and habituation to humans of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) in the territory of Stara Planina Mountain, respectively in Central Balkan National Park.

Central Balkan National Park is situated in the heart of Bulgaria. It spreads over the central, highest parts of Stara Planina Mountain. In the park are preserved self regulating ecosystems, which include extreme biological diversity, wildlife communities, as well as rare and endangered species habitats. Its area is estimated to 72021.07 ha which makes it the second largest national park in Bulgaria.

Central Balkan is among the largest and most valuable protected areas in Europe – Second class, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In the park nine restricted reserves are located, which cover 20 019 ha in total – Boatin, Carichina, Steneto, Djendema, Kozia Stena, Northern Djendem, Peeshti Skali, Sokolna and Stara Reka. The first four are part of the World biosphere reserves network in the Man and Biosphere UNESCO program. The National Park and 8 of the reserves are enlisted in UN List of Protected Areas.

The territory of the park is set to ensure its unique wild nature preservation – its natural borders contain almost untouched by human activity forest and alpine self regulating ecosystems of extreme biological diversity, wildlife communities and endangered species habitats. The park is approximately 85 km long with average width of 10 km. The unforested area spreads over 27 668.7 ha. The rest of the park (44 000.8 ha) is covered by forests. The park is characterized by the broad altitude span – the lowest point of Central Balkan is 500 m above sea level (near the town of Karlovo) and its highest point, Botev peak, as high as 2 376 m above sea level. The unique relief is representative for the park – steep slopes to the south and slanting to the north, pictorial canyons and gorges. The unique atmosphere of the park is complimented by multiple mountain streams, rivers and picturesque springs – waterfalls, among which the highest in Bulgaria – Raisko Praskalo, 124.5 m high.

The Park is situated in the center of Bulgaria and a biogeographic crossway. Here a piece of the tundra is found, some taiga forests, mid European deciduous forests, Mediterranean vegetation and animal species.The biological diversity is amazing. Most of the park’s territory is covered by venerable beech forests

The diversity of unique species is a characteristic feature of the park. Central Balkan is the habitat of 29 invertebrate species and 10 plant species, which do not occur in the wild anywhere else. The park is also an essential area for the preservation of the large predators – the Wolf (Canis lupus) and the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) as well as diurnal raptors such as the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) and the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Tens of the species in the park can only be seen in the Balkan Peninsula. A remarkable fact: in the times of intensive species extinction in global scale, in the region of the Botev and Triglav massifs new plant species are being generated even today.

The global significance of the ecosystems in Central Balkan is even more essential. Over 70% of these ecosystems have emerged naturally. The Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), Oriental hornbeam (Quercus dalechampii), Ash (Fraxinus) and Linden (Tilia) forests are inhabited by exceptional biological diversity. Beech and beech-like forests take over 60 000 ha and represent one of the most compact and vast woodlands, relatively untouched by human activity. The most elevated forest species are spruce (Picea abies) and the Macedonian Pine (Pinus peuce) – the northernmost habitat of this species is in Carichina reserve. The unforested parts of the park is inhabited by alpine frutescent and herbaceous communities, including many endemic species.

Since 2003 the park is a member of European preotected territories network PAN Parks – an international recognition of its well preserved and managed wild nature. In 2004 the region of the Park acquires a PAN Parks certificate.

Since 2006 the park is a member of EUROPARC – Federation of nature and national parks of Europe. Because of its preserved habitats and exclusive biological diversity, since 2008 Central Balkan is declared a Protected area for habitats preservation and a Protected area for wild birds preservation in the United European ecological network NATURA 2000.

Central Balkan National Park is included in the World Heritage UNESCO list of Bulgaria. The Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) population in Bulgaria is among the stable European populations. Most of the bears in Bulgaria live in Stara Planina Mountain. In the past 8 years partial study of Brown Bears in Central Balkan was implemented. Most of the research was part of separate biological diversity projects. The results of these studies are the basis of an analysis on brown bear inhabitation of the park and the adjoining territories. In the period 2007 -2014 four bears were marked with GPS-GSM collars, of which only two transmitted signal for more than a year permitting analysis of the habitats in four seasons. This data excerpt is insufficient for conclusive deductions in reference to the most valuable territories for the species preservation. The goal of the project is to continue with field research and expand the retrieved data concerning the Brown Bear in the region of Central Balkan NP. Radiotransmition collars need to be planted on different individuals, inhabiting the park or the adjoining territories.

The research project at Central Balkan aims to find answers to specific questions regarding South Eastern Brown Bear population:

  • Specify the size of individual territories and essential zones (important species habitats) of marked with GPS-GSM locator bears;
  • Specify the food diet of the bear in the region and the relevance of feeding racks, landfills and other anthropogenic food sources;
  • Study of the seasonal and diurnal migration.


The Field School

The 2016 Central Balkan Brown Bear Population Research is a field school, supplementing the first purposeful research on the Brown Bear population in the territory of Stara Planina Mountain. The field work is intensely carried out in two seasons – spring (March – June) and autumn (September – December). July and August are unsuitable for the research due to the high temperatures and the forest berries ripening, factors which makes bears inactive and hard to capture.

The project goal is capture of living representatives of the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos L.) species. They are marked with GPS collars and subsequent release at the capture spot, without any transportation. The project also aims chasing away or capture of problematic individuals in the region of Central Balkan NP and the adjoining territories by the emergency teams, regulated by the Brown Bear in Bulgaria action plan.

For this purpose areas are going to be picked in the Central Balkan NP, as well as on its borders. These areas are going to be preparatorily supplied with food. Phototraps follow the bear activity in the region. If a regular attendance of a bear is registered at a certain area, traps are going to be set. The capture is going to be executed with the commonly used in Europe and North America standard Aldrich snare. Culvert trap is also going to be used if the situation permits it. Both models are standardized and widely used for capture of living bears for scientific purposes. Their relevance in the last 40 years has proved the traps safety, concerning both the wild animal and the capture team. Traps are supplied with electronic radio-signal device, triggered at animal catch in order to minimize animal captivity under 3 hours. TELEDART air rifles for anaesthetizing are provided, as well as plastic syringe for remote anaesthesia apply.


The Program

The two-week field school session provides a minimum of 90 hours of fieldwork, workshops/lab work, lectures/instructions and guided tours as follows:


Field Work

  • Practice of Basic Techniques;
  • Reading signs of animal activity;
  • Collecting DNA samples;
  • Setting a trap installation;
  • Radio Tracking Collars;
  • Map reading;
  • Transects cover with GPS device;
  • Different Species Footprint Identification;
  • Creation of Field Documentation – Field Journal, Photographs, etc;
  • Different Species Excrements Identification.

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Lectures/ Instructions

  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for Field Research and Documentation;


  • How to Use a radio telemetry
  • Basic off-road driving skills.










Guided Tours

  • Visit to the Pleven chalet, Vidimsko praskalo waterfall, Botev peak.
  • Visit to the traditional towns of Troyan and Apriltsi.
  • Visit to Raisko Praskalo (Heaven’s Spring) – the Highest Waterfall on the Balkan Peninsula.

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The Agenda


First Day

Arrival Date: 15 May 2016, 08 June 2016, 27 June 2016, 01 September 2016, 19 September 2016, 10 October 2016

Depart for Apriltsi at 2.00 pm from Alexander Nevski square in Sofia by car.

Arrival and check-in at the Hotel , Apriltsi, Lovech District, Bulgaria, by 7.30 pm

8.00 – 9.30 pm – Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner


Second Day

Morning: Presentation of the Wild Balkans Field School, the program partners and the participants. Ice-breaking and orientation.

Afternoon: Lectures.


Work days

5.30 – 7.30 am – Trapline check.

7.30 – 8.30 am – Arrive at the hotel, brakefast and planning the day (if no animals are captured)

8.30 am – 4.00 pm – tracking and field work.

4.00 – 4.30 pm – return to the hotel

4.30 – 7.00 pm – rest time

7.00 – 7.30 pm – discussions and planning

7.30 – 9.00 pm – Dinner


The WBFS team can assist with the organization of additional leisure activities for participants upon request.



  • A day trip to Pleven hut, Vidimsko praskalo waterfall, Botev peak. The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
  • Tour of traditional towns of Apriltsi and Troyan; Visit to Natural History Museum, Cherni Osam. The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
  • A day trip to Raisko Prakalo Waterfall.   The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
  • A day trip to Veliko Tarnovo – the Capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The excursion is available for the other students for an additional fee.


Last Day

Morning: Evaluation meeting

Afternoon: Presentation of the research results.

Dinner and farewell party


Departure day

Breakfast 9.00 – 10.00 am

Check-out by 10.30 am

Departure for Sofia at 10.30 am


Departure dates:

  • Two-week session: 28 May 2016, 22 June 2016, 10 July 2016, 14 September 2016, 02 October 2016, 23 October 2016
  • Free-week session: 04 June 2016, 21 September 2016, 09 September 2016, 30 October 2016

A drop-off to the Sofia airport may be arranged  upon request.



Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities

Project Venue: Accomodation is situated within 30 km (20 miles) away from the working field area in a cozy family hotels and guest houses in the resort towns of Apriltsi, Ribaritsa, Kalofer, Cherny Osam etc.

  • Project venue depending on information concerning current animal activity.
  • At least three nights are going to be spent in a hunting cabin for observation of animal activity.

Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for up to 90 days. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Willd Balkans Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program.


Accommodation & Meals

Accommodation: In comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC). TV and free Wi-Fi included.

Meals: Three meals of fresh Bulgarian food per day are covered by the admission fee. They usually take place in the Hotel restaurant. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Brown-bag lunches during the field work, excursions and days off.

Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!   


Technicalities & Practicalities

Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is mandatory to arrange your own health insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, just like Bulgarian citizens, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.

Weather: The project locations are situated in mountain climate areas at more than 1,000 m. above sea level. The Central Balkan inherent strong , sometimes violent winds , heavy vertical and horizontal rain , dense fog, low temperatures, frequent and considerable cloudiness. Hot sunny days interchange, sometimes rapidly, with chilly and cloudy conditions

What to bring?

  • A pair of working shoes (hiking, trekking shoes) and a pair of comfortable shoes for walking;
  • Clothing suitable for an outdoor working environment: sun-hat and light clothes with long sleeves and legs (protecting from the sun and insects), including a light raincoat and fleece jaket (consider weather conditions – hot and sunny, but rain may fall as well);
  • Medication – It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria.
  • Don’t forget to bring a converter to EU type electricity wall-plug if needed.

GPS, Bear protection sprays and other materials are available at the site!

The Admission Fee

WBFS admission fee includes: Educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, and issue of Certificate of Attendance, administrative costs and excursions included in the field school program plus relevant entrance fees.


Admission fee for two-week session is 1047 EUR / app. 1195 USD.

Admission fee for three-week session is 1510 EUR/ app. 1723 USD.

Admission Fee Transfer Options:

– Bank transfer
– Online transfers via the Wild Balkans virtual POS Terminal
– Transfers via Western Union or Money Gram