Providing a safe passage for wildlife – using camera traps to determine whether existing infrastructure is used by animals to cross the Maritsa Highway

Posted: 30th July 2021

With ELP funds, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds is working with partners to prepare a proposal for the Green Belt zone along the Bulgarian-Turkish border. The area is a stronghold for the Eastern Imperial Eagle and is an important corridor for migratory birds including storks and Egyptian vultures. It is also home to IUCN Red List species including the mouse-tailed dormouse, marbled polecat and the Greek tortoise.  

Restoring and maintaining the open grasslands is a key conservation priority in the southeast of Bulgaria so the aim of the proposal is to restore corridors and to undertake ‘green infrastructure’ interventions including determining whether bridges, tubes and tunnels will be used by animals to cross over a 45km section of the Maritsa highway between the town of Harmanli and the border of Turkey. This is very important as the highway is the major barrier penetrating the Green Belt between Strandzha-Sakar mountains on the Bulgarian-Turkish border and Rhodope Mountains on the Greek-Bulgaria border.

A beech marten captured by the camera trap. Photo: BSPB

In order to examine if wildlife were using these structures, the project team set 9 camera traps near different passages along the researched section of the highway. In a period of four months between June and September, 191 animals were registered passing under the highway including golden jackals, foxes and European badgers. Anton Stamenov, one of the researchers carrying out the project, described his feelings about the work: “In the initial phase of the research, when I had to map all possible animal passes, I was amazed how difficult it was even to reach some parts of the highway from below. The cars on the road were flying by up there and I was down in the bushes 10 meters below. I was also astonished how many animal paths I was able to detect in the tall grass or mud that led me to a tunnel or a pipe under the highway. Obviously, many individuals are crossing the highway daily.”  

Anton explained the need for further research: “When we started to process the photos I expected that we would register some ungulates like roe or fallow deer but there were none. It is speculative if the types of tunnels we researched are suitable for them. Further investigations of that matter are required.” 

A golden jackal captured by the camera trap. Photo: BSPB

To learn more about the ELP-funded work done by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds click here.

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