Daniel Veríssimo, Rewilding Portugal's Enterprise Office, was present at the European Safari Company's Rewilding Tourism Training in Italy, and wants to share with us the amazing experiences he had during this trip.
Story: Daniel Veríssimo
This month I had the opportunity to participate in the European Safari Company Rewilding Tourism Training. This is my travel diary, a firsthand account of this experience of 5 days and 4 nights through the Mountains of Central Italy, in the National Park of Abruzzo Lazio and Molise, one of the oldest parks in Italy and one of the most famous national parks of Europe. People from Portugal, Croatia, Slovenia, Netherlands, Germany and Italy participated in the program designed by Aukje Van Gerven from the European Safari Company (ESC) and Simon Collier from Nature Tourism Development . Our guides there were Umberto and Valeria, local guides from WildLife Adventures. Togeher with me, two tourism profesionals in our Greater Côa Valley area, Fernando Romão from WildLife Portugal and Paulo Martinho from WildCôa, members of our Côa Selvagem Network participated.
The objective of this training was to form nature guides for the European reality, inspired by safaris on the African continent. We learned a lot about how to present experiences, the importance of hospitality and ethics, so important in the nature tourism industry.
I was also lucky to experience magical moments, those that leave a smile on your face and a sparkle in your eyes. From a walk through a century-old forest with large old trees with majestic canopies, to meeting a curious fox or seeing a wolf chasing a deer, something that seemed straight out of a National Geographic documentary, a very special experience.
I heard inspiring stories of a well-managed park with its own structure and an ambitious and visionary planning. In the early 1990s there were no deer in the park, but after a reintroduction program the herbivores have returned, they are quite abundant and luckily for visitors they are relatively easy to see.
Within the boundaries of the national park I saw clean and well-maintained trails, I saw public transport between the park villages and points of interest, and I saw green, moist forests. I saw wild landscapes teeming with life!
I heard that the economic argument is not used to spoil and exploit, but rather to conserve and restore.
The National Park was extended to new areas, at the request of local populations, to promote economic development in the region. At a time when rural and agricultural abandonment presents challenges, and is in fact an increasingly common situation across Europe – from Portugal to Poland and from Spain to Greece, the restoration of natural areas is an opportunity not only to store carbon and increase interest in nature, but also to provide new opportunities for local populations.
The great work of Rewilding Apennines, which works to increase coexistence with an innovative concept – “smart bear” communities – has the important mission of protecting bee hives and chicken coops, while promoting the natural dispersal of bears, removing barbed wire and pruning abandoned apple and pear orchards to increase food availability and further develop a local economy based on nature and with a strong focus on tourism and cooking. This ensures that conflicts with wildlife are rare and localized and that rural populations benefit from nature in a sustainable and harmonious way.
The trip to Italy leaves questions and ideas in the air on how to apply this in Côa and to various areas of our country. Is it possible to imagine something identical in our country? In Serra da Estrela, Montesinho or Gerês? Geography and climate are identical. Could the Great Côa Valley unite the abundance and diversity of birds with a great abundance of herbivores? Could the coexistence of predators in the Apennines with bears and large populations of wolves be replicated in Portugal? It sounds difficult, but if the Italians can do it, why not us? I believe in wild Portugal!