Bears and Wolves are shy and avoid human contact whenever they can, so what are the real dangers of the forest in Slovenia?
Please note that I am a biologist and not a medical expert: I cannot take responsibility for any medical claims resulting from anything which I wrote or did not write below.
Little Red Riding Hood went all alone into the deep dark forest. We all know that this is just a fairy tale. Some of us also realise that the Big Bad Wolf is a metaphor of scary men who sneak upon young girls in lonely places … Too often the meaning of the story is misunderstood. This gave real Wolves a pretty bad reputation which they don’t deserve. Sure, Wolves are predators and they can, and do, eat Sheep and Goats every now and then. Wise Slovenian farmers surround their livestock with electric fences. Increasingly, they employ guard dogs, which are a lot scarier than any Wolf, but which remain behind those electric fences so they are easy to avoid. Like this, the farmers manage to avoid conflicts with Wolves to a very large extent. So for us humans, wolves are not among the dangers of the forests.
Wolves are shy animals and in the forest, they do all they can to avoid humans.
Bears are somewhat scarier, but only when they lose their natural fear for mankind. This may happen when we train Bears to associate humans with food. Bears quickly find out where we leave garbage around villages and allow open access to compost heaps. A more recent danger occurs when we start feeding bears for a growing tourist attraction: Bear-watching. In all other cases Bears, like Wolves, avoid people. The faintest sound of human speech sends them running into the forests as fast as they can manage. For just in case: the LIFE DINALP BEAR project made a brochure on how to behave in the Bear areas.
Endless hills. No road or path goes straight. Small trails start everywhere at the unpaved forest roads. They are not made for hiking but are there because, at some time or another, a forest owner logged some trees. These “trails” get ever smaller and end just somewhere in the forest. The GPS hardly works because of the hills and the trees. The main forest community is the same over very large stretches: Beech, Silver Fir and Spruce. You can’t really see far, especially in summer. You probably guessed it by now: getting lost is by far the biggest danger for any unaware hiker in the Slovenian forests.
Slovenia is a Beekeeping Country! So much even, that it can be difficult to buy non-Slovenian honey in the supermarket. Most bee-keepers are doing this as a hobby or perhaps a small side-business. Almost anywhere you may encounter see small numbers of hives, often on a trailer which is parked on a nice spot, in specially constructed wooden buildings or at the side of a small storage building.
Slovenian bees are a special breed, which originates from a local subspecies. These Carnolian bees and known to be non-aggressive. However, it is possible to provoke them and they may also react on specific weather circumstances. From time to time they may swarm to form new colonies: you then see thousands of bees buzzing around a temporary nest site. Although this is very impressive, they are also at such times usually docile. But in case you are allergic to bee stings, it is good to be aware that you may encounter bees practically anywhere in Slovenia.
Honeybees are not aggressive, but bee stings can be a problem if you are allergic to them.
There are no bloodsucking Leaches in the Slovenian Primaeval forest.
Mosquito’s are present, but they do not transmit any dangerous diseases in modern times (Malaria is eradicated in Europe, Zika and Dengue are not yet found in Slovenia).
So that leaves us with ticks, which are common. The tick season lasts from early spring to late fall and, in the coastal region, the entire year. Many tick-bites are harmless and they leave just a small swelling which itches for a few days. But ticks can and do transmit two serious diseases: Lyme (Borrelia) and Tick-borne encephalitis. Neither disease is exclusive for Slovenia and in fact, you can contract both from tick-bites almost anywhere in Europe (also in the Netherlands tick-borne encephalitis is recently found!). These two diseases are in fact the most frequently encountered dangers of the forest in Slovenia!
Borrelia is treated with antibiotics. For tick-borne encephalitis, only symptoms can be treated (in the hospital!), but it is possible to vaccinate against this disease. Please check with your countries health centres for more information.
Slovenia’s most dangerous animal is one of the smallest: ticks can transmit diseases.
When you join us on our tours, you obviously reduce the risk to get lost in the forest. We actually hope to see Bears sometimes and we may find footprints of Wolves. Bees can mostly be avoided by behaving quietly around hives. But we take ticks with their potential to spread diseases very seriously indeed. While this risk can be reduced with repellents and vaccinations, they remain among the most serious dangers of the forests in Slovenia.