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Rhodope Mountains - The Raptor Heaven – one of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots
08.03.2016

Rhodope Mountains - The Raptor Heaven – one of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

The Eastern Rhodopes is the only breeding area for griffon vultures in Bulgaria and it is also the most important breeding site for the globally threatened Egyptian vulture on the Balkan peninsula.
On top of that, the last remaining breeding colony of black vulture in South-eastern Europe is situated nearby, in the Dadia forest on the Greek side of the border and these huge birds regularly come over to the Bulgarian side of the mountain in search for food. Among the dozens of other raptor species can be mentioned Eastern imperial eagle, saker falcon, Levant sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon and several other eagles. The whole region is also a stronghold within Bulgaria for wolf, jackal, souslik and otter. The brown bear has begun to recolonise the Rhodopes in recent years and bear watching is already becoming a bookable tourism offer in the Western Rhodopes.

A total of 4329 animal species have been found in the Eastern Rhodopes. Because of its location in the crossroads between the European and Asian continent, the impact of the Mediterranean, its pristine landscapes and the variety of habitats here in combination with the relatively small human disturbance, the Eastern Rhodopes have become a favourite place for the bird life, with 278 bird species noted, making the area into one of the bird watching hotspots in Europe.

The area is also a reptile paradise and the mosaic landscape here, with its large variety of habitats and hot summers, have produced no less than thirty species. No place in Europe has a better variety of lizards (12), snakes (14) and turtles & tortoises (4). Most numerous are the large green lizards and the wall lizards, which both can be found also in the village gardens. Ecologically most interesting are those species that are restricted to specific natural habitats.

26 fish species have so far been identified in the waters here, and among them four small members of the carp family that are endemic to the Balkan Peninsula: Chondrostoma vardarense, Vimba melanops, Barbus cyclolepis and Sabanejewia balcanica (Balkan Spined Loach).

So far there have been found around 2,000 species of vascular plants here, of which 37 are Balkan endemics – found only on the Balkan Peninsula, 22 of these are found only in Bulgaria, whereas Yurushka mullein (Verbascum juruk) occurs only in the Eastern Rhodopes. Over 20 plant species are relicts that have survived several glaciations and reached us from ancient times. Among them are the Rhodope haberlea (Haberlea rhodopensis) and “Rhodope mountain mother” (Lathraea rodopaea).

Much of the Bulgarian part of the Eastern Rhodopes are covered by eight sites within Europe’s “Natura 2000” protected area network. Seven are “Specially Protected Areas” according to the EU Birds Directive.

The area is already getting more and more known and popular among bird watchers and wildlife lovers.

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