By Anita Palada – https://anitapaladabrand.com
In a post-covid world we’re taking to the woods like never before. Here, we can experience a calm and sense of presence that escapes us in urban life. Croatian Travel journalist and nature lover Anita Palada takes us deep into the mountains of Gorski Kotar in Croatia, where nature photographer Romeo Mance goes photo hunting in Ravna Gora forest. Here, there’s life. Wild life.
Romeo Mance (40), already well exhausted by a hard and stressful day, had only one thing on his mind: How to get to the forest. However, as strong as the desire was, reason said he should stay at home. The mountainous Croatian region of Gorski Kotar, as well as his destination Ravna Gora, was already covered with thick fog, and light rain began to fall. There wouldn’t be enough light in the surrounding forests for photo hunting, let alone in an hour.
However, a feeling left Romeo restless. Something pulled him towards the woods. “I need to go to the woods!“ He did not want to or could not suppress this call of nature. “I’m going, whatever!“
Into the wild forest
Slowly, one footstep at a time, the trail led him deeper and deeper into the woods. It would soon be dark. “Never mind, I’ll sit on a stump for a while and listen to the silence. Maybe some forest animals will join me in that peace. I hope.“
He scanned his surroundings for the slightest sound. Nobody was there. He could only hear his own breath and heartbeat. No animals nearby. “They probably hid somewhere and it seems I came in vain because of this weather,” he thought. Despite the cold and the moisture that had already crept into his bones, he decided to wait a little longer. The camera in his hands, ready to shoot at the slightest movement of a forest beast. This was not his first time in the woods. He was used to waiting for hours for the animal to appear near him in order to observe and photograph them.
The woods are full of wild beasts
There was an unusual silence around him, not even birds could be heard. What a strange feeling. Then suddenly he heard the howling of bloodthirsty beasts. He froze. Wolves! And a few of them in a pack! Although accustomed to the presence and observation of wild animals around him, he felt a shiver run through him. It was like taken out of a horror movie. Twilight, fog, light rain, grave silence and the howling of wolves. It was a moment so perfectly scary it belonged in a movie. Not something you would expect to encounter, unless you lived a hundred lifetimes.
He sat on the old stump for a few more minutes, listening to his heartbeat. He was frozen but thrilled. His life’s moment had just happened; the prize for patiently observing the wild animals. The prize of photo hunting in the Gorski Kotar forests. His efforts had paid off! The wolves had finally “taken pity” on him and revealed themselves when he least expected. He did not see them, but their presence and loud howling in the almost completely dark forest remained permanently with him and would never be forgotten.
“I experienced a moment that I have been waiting for years, a moment which led me to go to the forest almost every day since” Romeo exclaimed and continued joyfully: “The wolf is known as a very bloodthirsty and dangerous animal when in a pack. ”
Encounter of man and wolf are very rare, and since the wolf has extremely well-developed senses, especially the sense of smell, it moves away even before a potential encounter with man.
Many people in nature, along with the wolves, are afraid of bears, wild boars and lynxes, but according to Romeo, they have no reason to be. “Bear attacks on humans are extremely rare,” says Romeo, adding: “I recently read that man is 400 times more likely to die by lightning than bears.
Danger from wild beasts: truth or myth?
All large carnivores in the forest have very well developed senses. As soon as they smell a human near them, they try to get away as soon as possible so that one doesn’t even see them. “If you walk in the woods and are afraid of wild animals, just draw attention to yourself and send them signals that you are there. Talk out loud, whistle, hit the trunk with a stick. It is important to make noise, but not excessive so as not to disturb other forest dwellers,” Romeo says with expertise.
If you spot a bear before it notices you, don’t approach or disturb it in any way. Slowly begin to move away from it in the direction you came from. Give it a chance to just walk away from you. Never throw stones or any objects at a bear as it will feel threatened. It can react unexpectedly and act in self-defense, increasing the risk of an aggressive reaction. When people see a bear standing on its hind legs, they usually think it is taking an aggressive stance and preparing to attack. However, it only poses so to get a better view.
How to get close for a photo
Making noise is for those visitors to the forest who are afraid, and for Romeo as a photo hunter, quite the opposite rules apply. He must be as quiet and careful as possible in moving through nature. He must not make noise, he must be calm and composed in order to get as close to the animals as possible and take the best possible photo.
“Taking a quality photo of an animal in a natural environment seems very simple, but it is not easy. It requires a great deal of knowledge about photography and the living habits of animals. Patience and willingness to wait a long time is one of the main factors in a successful photo hunt. It is necessary to know the terrain on which the animals move and live. Their habits, tracks and biology. I can freely say that every photo hunter must be a quality naturalist.“
However, photo hunting is not just about knowledge. The terrain is often inaccessible and very difficult to patrol, and photographic equipment is often heavy. Therefore, Romeo is in shape and full of physical strength. Photo hunting is not a hobby for everyone, but if someone still feels the call of nature and wild beasts, Romeo offers advice: “You should be patient, calm and not expect much from every field trip. With a great deal of courage, especially when photographing beasts, you should be “a little crazy”. Fear should be kept to a minimum, but a small dose of fear must remainto keep you alert.”
Romeo always goes photo hunting alone, like a lone wolf: “I have peace, I go where I want and stay as long as I want. Not a single outing is the same. It is always unpredictable, challenging and interesting. You learn something new, experience various supernatural situations, come across new animal tracks, sounds, a lair, a den. And that’s what draws me to keep coming back to nature,” Romeo continues.
The quiet rewards
“This summer I found a nest of a hawk owl in a rather remote part of the forest. For four days in a row, I walked for a long time, crawling through overgrown bushes. I was sweaty, dusty and muddy, tripping over branches, sitting in a tent for several hours, taking pictures without success. When the photos were then finally good, I forgot all the hardship. After a successful day, I forget about the troubles and immediately start planning a new photo hunt.”
People ask him how he has the will to go, what he gets out of it. What will he do with those photos of bears and lynxes? What does he get out of listening to wolves? However, Romeo measures the best values of life in nature experiences and the strength of emotions within himself. “It’s a love of nature and photography. It cannot be learned or taught. You either have or you don’t have that urge to stay in nature and spend your days in the company of wild animals.”
Gorski Kotar – coexistence of man & bear
The bears have already started visiting Romeo themselves. They come around an observatory he recently build on his father-in-law’s property. Several bears have visited. Each is different, both in appearance and behavior. While some are still very timid and run away at every unknown sound, others are already so used to his presence that he can even talk to them. They allow him to take photos without interruption, outside the observation post, at a distance of about 5-10 m. This behavior and this way of photographing is only possible when he is alone.
“As soon as someone is with me, they sense the stranger, even if we are standing in the observatory with an open window. When it’s only me they are completely relaxed. With others they become more cautious and insecure. They don’t run away, but with their body language, restlessness and “humming”, they let me know that they can feel I’m not alone and that not everything is the same. The bears should be treated with great respect, and I really have it because after all, I am just a guest on their lands,” Romeo shares.
Lynx, on the other hand, are very rare to encounter because of the small number of their population and their great caution, so only the really lucky ones get to see them.
How to become a good photo hunter?
Staying in the deep woods is hardly ideal. It is very hot in summer, mosquitoes attack in autumn, it is difficult to move in winter due to snow and it is very cold. Getting up early on weekends, leaving and coming out to the woods after dark requires physical and mental effort, but also concentration, patience and calmness to make photo hunting successful. To become a good photo hunter it’s not enough to have good equipment, you also need to love it.
“You have to love nature and live in accordance with it and its laws. You have to respect its world. If you have that something in you and you love nature, you will surely succeed in photo hunting. Try it because the experiences are immeasurable!” Romeo tells us in the end.
Let your instinct guide you
Nature is epic, isn’t it? If you, after this story, want to immerse yourself further in the nature of Gorski Kotar and enjoy watching wild animals, but are unsure where to start, you can start with Romeo, from his newly built observatory in Ravna Gora. You can check out his Instagram and Facebook account or email him.
About Anita Palada
Anita Palada is a journalist from Croatia, specialized in travel and tourism. She writes the most about her country Croatia, especially about different picturesque places along the Adriatic coast, like Terra Madre. But not only from Croatia! She also travels, explores, and talks with people worldwide to convey exciting stories about interesting destinations, heritage hotels, good restaurants, traditional food, and tasty wines, like this article about Croatian Wine. Read more on https://anitapaladabrand.com