Europe’s Big 5

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Europe has a Big 5, just not many people know about it…

One of the first things we may picture in our minds when we think of the continent of Africa, is indeed Africa’s Big 5. Images evoking awe and wonder bound into our imaginations. A stealthy lioness hunting the straggler from a herd of migrating wildebeest, whilst the male lion dozes lazily in the shade. The majestic matriarch mothering her new born on the boundless plains of the Mara. An elusive leopard, lying alert amongst the dense carpet of tall grasses, camouflaged. The armour plated behemoth; the rhinoceros, bathing in the watering hole, as the midday heat becomes almost unbearable. And oft the most feared, the ‘widow maker;’ the mighty buffalo, standing under the large baobab tree, with a few parasite-gobbling Ox-Peckers on tow.

A mesmerising quintuple.

But what images crystallise in your mind when you think of Europe?

Most likely not our Big 5.

Can you even guess what our European Big 5 is?

Our Amazing Wildlife

By the 1950s and 1960s, Europe had become depauperate in wildlife species, such as bear & wolf, and bison even became extinct in the wild. This is collectively attributed to exhaustive persecution, hunting and poaching; habitat loss and conversion; poisoning, pollution and hazardous chemicals persisting in food chains.

However, over the last 50 years Europe has seen a significant revival in bird and mammal populations. The successful recovery has been shaped through active targeted conservation management regimes, such as international legal protection, species-specific legislation against hunting and persecution by the EU and the rise of the environmental movements from the 1970s has augmented public awareness. These initiatives have primarily aided large herbivore guilds to flourish.

And then there are more passive measures, including the abandonment of traditional agricultural landscapes and improvements in landscape connectivity. These have proved fruitful in restoring mostly large carnivore numbers.

The Big 5, revealed …

(A wisent is another name for a bison)

. Bear . Lynx . Wolf . Wolverine . Bison .

There are now more wolves in Europe than America. More bears.

Surprising, eh?

There is no country in continental Europe that doesn’t have a presence of wolves; 12,000 of them roam.

A study back in 2014, found that 17,000 brown bears permanently reside in 22 European countries, with the largest population numbering 7,000 in the Carpathian Mountains.

9,000 lynx traverse across 23 European countries.

1,250 wolverine.

All but three mainland European countries, were found to be retaining their predator population numbers and in some areas, populations were even increasing in abundance on a continental scale.

There are 200 bison breeding centres scattered around Europe. Gradually adding to the population of 5,000. 3,200 of which roam freely.

My Rewilding Goal

I’m obsessed with our Big 5. Even though I sadly haven’t seen them in the wild. For me, it's simply knowing that they are there. Some of my upcoming posts will delve further into the issues surrounding rewilding. In this post, I purely wanted people to become more aware of the abundance and variety of wildlife we have.

In time, my rewilding dream is to distill a greater sense of pride in the wildlife of our continent.

I want people to easily be able to conjure images in their imaginations of our very own magnificent 5…

A bear; just a two hour drive from Rome in Abruzzo National Park, standing upright on two legs, nose pressed high in the air, locating a female many miles away to mate with. The feline of the 5; a lynx stalking through the rugged forest, eyes fixed on the lone roe deer, patiently waiting until the opportunity arises to rapidly launch a surprise attack. The magnificent herds of bison roaming in the Bialowieza forest, adding to nature’s soundscape with the snow crunching beneath their hooves and the regular low rumblings, snorts, coughs and grunts. A wolverine, scavenging on the remains of the lynx’s hunt, whilst repelling the lurking ravens with its surprising strength. The ecosystem engineers; a wolf pack tearing through the undergrowth, creating ecologies of fear, transforming their entire landscape and breathing new life into their surroundings.

But let's not forget the other animals on Rewilding Europe’s agenda; the ibex, elk, chamois, deer, vulture, boar, jackal and beaver, all of which are growing in number across the continent due to the work of Rewilding Europe. The marine ‘Fabulous 5,’ with the monk seal and basking shark. The ‘Forgotten 5’. The ‘Funny 5.’ We have flora and fauna as awesome and amazing as other continents. So, let’s show the rest of the world.

This is our recoverable earth. Our magical Europe.

Find out more about Europe's Fives here.