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The Biodiversity of Slovenia

Slovenia is home to more than 15,000 animal species and 3,200 plant species or, in other words, at least to every hundredth known living species and at least to every fiftieth continental species. This great number of species in such a small area means that Slovenia's flora and fauna are among the richest in Europe and even in the world. Thus it can be rightly depicted as a European biotic park.

Approximately 11% of Slovenia's territory is specially protected; the largest area with such a regime is the Triglav National Park with a surface area of 848 km2. The Škocjan Caves were entered on the world heritage list at UNESCO in 1986, and the Sečovlje saltpans and Cerknica Lake are included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Slovenia is a Land of Forests

The most typical feature of the Slovenian landscape is its forests, which cover as much as 58% of the national territory. In terms of relative forest cover Slovenia is third in the European Union, after Finland and Sweden. The forest area in Slovenia is expanding through the growing-over of abandoned farmland, primarily meadow and pasture in more remote parts of the countryside. In many parts of the urban landscape, however, forests must yield to the construction of infrastructure and other structures. The forests are a valuable natural resource for Slovenia, with close to 300 million cubic meters of wood growing in them.

Slovenia has an established tradition of planned management of forests. The first forestry plans were made in the 18th century (1770). Modern principles of forest management in Slovenia are sustainability, imitating the natural cycle in forests (co-natural management) and the multi-purpose nature of the forests. The forests are also a major resource in terms of their ecological and social functions, as well as in terms of the beauty they lend to the Slovenian landscape. The ecological functions include: protection of forest land and stands, a hydrological function, plus a biotope and climate function. The ecological functions of the forests serve to protect fertile soil from erosion, to protect biodiversity - the existence of a multitude of animal and plant organisms that are essential for the unimpeded life of the ecosystem, to purify water and to maintain the balanced drainage of precipitation into watercourses (numerous water sources are within forests). Remnants of primeval forests are still to be found, the largest being in the Kočevje area. The total area of these primeval forests is 380 ha.

Apart from the bear, the largest animal in the forest, it is possible to encounter the wolf, wildcat, deer and roe deer, and since 1973 the lynx has been reintroduced in the Kočevje area. Among the smaller animals are the beech marten and the pine marten, squirrel, badger and fox.

Visiting the Brown Bear

Today Slovenia is one of the rare countries in Europe with stabile and one of the most vital brown bear population with an expanding habitat and strongly increasing numerically. The Slovenian brown bear population is very important for the re-introduction of brown bear in Italy, Austria and France.

But this was not always so. The brown bear was very common in Slovenia until 18th century. But, reduction of woodlands, intensive agriculture, extensive hunting and the systematic human interference with all three large predator species drastically reduced the population. The number of bears declined the most in level areas suitable for farming. The management and protection of the brown bear population in Slovenia began in the 19th century.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were only 30 to 40 brown bears in Slovenia. It was only in the second half of the previous century that their number began increasing due to environmental management and orientation. It is estimated that there are currently 500 to 700 brown bears living in Slovenia. The brown bear can be most frequently found in fir and beech forests of higher Karst at an altitude from 400 to 1200 meters. The Slovenian Dinaric population is the westernmost part of brown bear habitat in Central Europe. The largest Slovenian population of the brown bear is found in the forests of the Kočevje, Bela krajina and Notranjska regions. In a 3000 km2 of dense forest of the higher bear population survived due to appropriate natural environment and man's sympathy for this species.

An average Slovenian brown bear usually weighs between 100 and 150 kilograms; is omnivorous: plant food amounts to 70% to 85% of his diet, while meat merely 15% to 30% throughout the year, and hunts only occasionally. Despite its clumsy and slow appearance the bear is a great traveller, often covering tens of kilometres per day, a good runner, and fast swimmer. Younger bears are also good climbers. From November to March bears are less active, as this is the hibernation period. In the wild, they can live from 15 to 25 years. Bears are solitary animals. A male bear is not involved in the upbringing of the young cubs.

The bear's senses of smell and hearing are exceptionally well developed, although its eyesight is relatively poor. For this reason it is extremely difficult to surprise it or approach it unnoticed. The bear hunts only occasionally and does not consider humans as a potential prey, so it never stalks on people with an intention or to hunt them. In an encounter with a human being the bear feels, above all, threatened and tends to withdraw from the situation as soon as possible. We can say that in their encounter the man and the bear feel pretty much the same.

Slovenian proverbs and sayings about bears:

Močan kot medved. - To be as strong as a bear.
Hodi kot medved. - He walks like a bear.
Zaščiten kot medved. - To be protected as a bear.
Medvedje obnašanje. - Bear behaviour.
Medvedja usluga. - A bear's favour (a favour that does more harm than good)
Medved - močan, dobrodušen človek. - He is a bear - he is a strong, good-hearted person.
Tristo kosmatih medvedov, kako si trmast! - Three hundred hairy bears, you are so stubborn!
Ne prodajaj kože, dokler je medved še v brlogu. - Don't sell the skin while the bear is still in its den.
Piti na medvedovo kožo, čeprav je medved še v gozdu. - To toast a bear's skin while the bear is still in the forest.

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