May, wolves and the forest
It was 5 of us who decided to come and get to know Naliboki from the inside. We came with the idea of finding new wolf litters, all the time helped and advised by Vadim Sidorovich who, we knew, had been carrying that work for 30 years and was an expert on the field, the best we were told. With that in mind, we didn’t hesitate to come to this unknown country and enjoy the great experience in Naliboki Forest.
We were a mixed group of nature loving people, while some of us searched the ground for tracks and any other sign of animal activity, others searched the sky looking for birds, some, even had time to do both!
But the experience went further than to help looking for Wolf litters and tracking and observing wild local animals. The experience became a regression process for us to a time not that far away were humans lived in small communities.
There were the everyday chores, in and around the lodge that made us go back in time to our more humble past. Having to find branches and leaves to lit a fire on the ground in order to have breakfast, lunch or to warm up our quarters made us go back to a more primitive culture, were fire was a much needed tool: humans and fire.
The same heat we got from the fire we found in Vadim´s family who welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at home.
The day looking for the Wolf pups started early in the morning and finish after an intense and long day. On the way it wasn’t difficult to find capercaillie, red deer, roe-deer and with a bit of luck elk and a variety of birds, that surprised by our presence went into hide rapidly. Both the birch and spruce forest and the swamps seemed endless. Without a doubt an inhospitable habitat for humans but perfect for the animals that found shelter in it. And the wolfs seem to look for the furthest ,most unexplored places of all where only men running away from their past or the law might follow them.
It was in these swamps where we came across with old forgotten utensils to produce forbidden alcoholic beverage which feature other times and periods. And here it was too where men carried away by a blind and irrational patriotism lost their dreams and lives in the bog, in water and mud... not without having come across every kind of misery and disease that was World War II.
But not only we did confirm the presence of men in the horrors of the war but we did see too the neglect in the channel drainage after the post-soviet period and their subsequent environmental consequences. The water, now lord and master of this word, has sculpt it at its whim with the invaluable help of its loyal companion, the European Beaver. The presence of the rodent was visible everywhere we looked.
These swamps and the deepest forest where the chosen places for the Wolf to bring to this world their new offspring. Well hidden from the indiscreet gazes, far away from the nuisance that is the man, close from their prey but protected enough to safeguard their descendants from any kind of danger. And always ready to run away at the first sign of threat: the slightest smell could trigger the flight.
This noble and sturdy character, so typical of the Naliboki Wolves is which has forged Vadim Sidorovich. Tireless and tenacious, it seemed that the word tiredness didn’t have space in his diary and the purpose of his “mission” made the short few moments of despondency disappear both in body and mind. Every step we were closer.
The different signs and tracks were drawing a map in Vadim’s head, a map that look smaller and narrower everyday and that would finish “cornering” the Wolves.
The first tracks and the invaluable help of the camera-traps revealed a pair of wolves and their pregnant daughter. The mother-wolf had given birth few days before, but the information gotten on the few days after the event, made us believe that the litter was lost ( a litter, Vadim concluded, no bigger than two or three pups). But the pair’s daughters pregnancy made us realized that there was still hope for this group to bring new life to Naliboki.
We decided, on the following days, to keep our efforts searching for a third litter that Vadim hoped knew the whereabouts of. But luck appeared to be dodging us and it seemed that the Wolves could read our minds. And day after day we kept going back to our “base camp” with the feeling we had been close, but not close enough. Tiredness was building up in our bodies as well as our minds and the hope of finding a litter got smaller and smaller as the days passed by
We decided to spend a night in the forest hopping to see one of these elusive animals. We weren’t as lucky as to see one of the terrific predators but we enjoyed ourselves with the view of a couple of ungulates (hoofed animals), a racoon dog, a pine marten... all while listening to the magic sound of a group of cranes that were around the area.
Wolf! Mission accomplish!
And the last day of our stay arrived. As everyday we woke up with the daylight and started our last search. Once again the signs and tracks were closing the circle, today they took us to a fir tree forest... we were just about to spread out to improve the possibility of finding anything, somebody shouted the word we were so longing to hear. A Wolf!!
As fast as was possible we all looked the place were our trip mate David was pointing at, and some of us were able to distinguish the running figure of a wolf fleeing from us (or better, as we later found out, trying to take our attention away of something she was protecting). Two of us, urged by Vadim’s voice, even followed her with the expectation of seeing her better...difficult, even ridiculous task. But soon he made us return. They had found the pups. Mission accomplish!
We enjoyed the sight of the little ones, and we moved away as fast as cautiously as we could so not to alter any more the natural order of the Wolves. There were nine pups! Without any doubt great news for the Wolf population of Naliboki. This made Vadim smile.
Mr.A. is a thin and harsh man who Works in Naliboki, for the government, as lumberjack. He lives in the forest in a very austere lodging close to the path that joins Naliboki with the outside world. Everyday he cycles tens of kilometres to get his daily reward; a bit of bread and a bottle of wine, which he complements with the eggs provided by his chickens. He shares his simple and modest life with his three dogs, a local breed bitch and her two pups who are with the chickens the only beings that accompany him.
Mr.A. had to be admitted to hospital and hospitalized for five months and abandon his everyday life after a bad spell. During all this time he didn’t have the chance to take care of his animals and he thought their chances of surviving by themselves were close to none, even more knowing, than more than half of the domestic dogs that live in Naliboki, finish being wolf prey. After getting the all clear from hospital, he returned with no hope of finding his dogs alive. But he got the shock of his live when he confirmed that they were in excellent health!
This puzzling incident made him get in contact with Vadim who thought the story was odd. In the days that followed Vadim verified the idea that was going through his head, somebody fed the dogs, and that somebody wasn’t human. The tracks that Vadim was registering always took him to the forest, the bitch’s tracks took him to the forest. Everything pointed out that the answer to the puzzle was in the forest. He kept investigating till he realized that next to the bitch’s tracks there were those of an adult Wolf (maybe a lonely animal that the main group had rejected ). Now he knew who was responsible for the dogs being alive.
The male Wolf grew fond of the female and supplied her and her pups with food. Fruit of this fondness the bitch got pregnant.She was after giving birth to the pups when we found out about the story. The pups were slightly bigger than what pups their breed were supposed to be, what confirmed the story of a Wolf ancestry. There were 5 pups, all of them in great health. Between them,there was an slightly smaller female whose fur was White as the snow. This was the lucky one Vadim’s family decided to adopt and who they named “Wouk”.
Maybe, Wolves will again be closer to dogs than what generations of breeding had been trying to distance.
‘Muy Rico Team’: Mikel Salvador, Jesús Menedez, Iñaki Galdos, David Lacanal, Jon Iker Ugarte.
*The number of different species of birds watched during the 10 days in Naliboki was about 80: Grey Partridge, Western Capercaille, Black Grouse, Whooper Swan, Common Goldeneye, Goosander, Black Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Sea-eagle, several woodpecker species like: Grey-faced Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Black woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Eurasian Hobby, Wood Warbler, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Spotted Nutcracker, Reed Bunting, and so on.....