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Returning to Transylvania: Europe’s Last Great Wilderness

Victoria Hillman is a National Geographic Explorer and Research Director for the Transylvanian Wildlife Project overseeing research on carnivores and biodiversity of Europe’s last great wilderness. Follow the expedition here on Explorers Journal through updates from the team.


I first visited Transylvania in the Eastern Carpathians in 2011 as a wildlife biologist and photographer for the Transylvanian Wildlife Project and was welcomed by a passionate, friendly and enthusiastic team wanting to preserve this part of Europe’s last great wilderness. I have returned now as research director for the project to oversee our work to document and protect this incredible but fragile area. The first few days have been spent putting together plans for the next 12 months and making a couple of visits to different parts of our primary research site to start collecting images of the flora and fauna.

Victoria Hillman photographing a moth on a tree
Victoria Hillman photographing a moth on a tree


View of part of the research area by Bereczki Barna
View of part of the research area by Bereczki Barna

A little bit about the area 

The Carpathians Mountains form an arc of approximately 1500km in length spanning 8 countries and over half of this range is within Romania. The Carpathians are the last great wilderness of Europe and a stronghold for bears, wolves and lynx with Europe’s largest populations living in these forests as well as over one third of Europe’s plant species. We are based in the Eastern Carpathians in Transylvania, an area more associated with vampires than wildlife but with a huge jewel of biodiversity waiting to be documented. Which is where we come in; we will be documenting the flora and fauna as well as setting up camera traps to assess the populations of large carnivores.


The team

We are a small but passionate team working together from Transylvania (Romania), England and Germany all responsible for different areas of the project depending on individual expertise. The majority of the field work will be carried out by myself (research director and photographer), Bereczki Barna (Alpine specialist and photographer), Gál László (tracker and photographer) and Bálint Botond (Secretary and photographer).

Gál László photographing fungi in the forest
Gál László photographing fungi in the forest
Bereczki Barna photographing a flower on the forest floor
Bereczki Barna photographing a flower on the fores
Bird's-eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) by Gál László
Bird’s-eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) by Gál László


Over the next twelve months we are going to be using camera traps to document the presence of large carnivores (wolves, bears and lynx) and field research to compile biodiversity records for the area not to mention document our journey and antics as we go about the research! For now though, while we anxiously await the arrival of our camera traps we have already been out photographing the beautiful wild flowers and really cool invertebrates in the meadows and even came across a stork and couple of sand lizards, at this point we are only at the tip of the iceberg and there will be many many more interesting things to come during this research period. In the next post I will talk more about the research sites and what we have found so far!


Grasshooper on tricolour violet Victoria Hillman
Grasshooper on tricolour violet by Victoria Hillman


NEXT: Photo Gallery: Transylvania



  1. Radu Popescu
    January 17, 2014, 5:17 pm

    Transylvania is more Hungarian because it was an integral pert of Hungary over 1000 years even if today is under Romania oppression.

  2. Marilyn Friesen
    Alberta, Canada
    September 13, 2013, 5:42 pm

    Do you have more photos, yet? I am writing a book that includes mountainous areas of Europe.

  3. Sonja
    June 16, 2013, 9:38 am

    I will be rejoiced at the coming photos and I am very curious to read more about the project. Good luck!

  4. Alex Burda
    Bucharest, Romania
    June 16, 2013, 7:13 am

    Very interesting story about the wildlife in the western region of my country, Romania. Though it would have been nice to mention this more clearly in the title which otherwise is misleading. Transylvania is a region of Romania, not a country. So it would have been more accurate to say “Returning to Transylvania (Romania): Europe’s Last Great Wilderness…” at the least.

  5. Irene C. Wotherspon
    Belnan, Nova Scotia, Canada
    June 5, 2013, 9:49 am

    You do fantastic work Victoria. The family here in Canada fell you do excellent work and and you continue with even more beautiful work. Have a great year.

  6. Jennie
    Nelson New Zealand
    June 5, 2013, 8:23 am

    Wow Victoria, what a wonderful year you are going to have and what a great start! I look forward to your ongoing blogs.
    Keep well – Jennie

  7. Paul White
    June 4, 2013, 4:13 pm

    Fabulous entry Victoria! A great start to a wonderful year of research.

  8. Jim Jones
    Surrey. England
    June 4, 2013, 2:33 pm

    Thanks for the update Victoria- some amazing photos! Can’t wait to see what your visit turns up. Looking forward to my own expedition in the Tarnava Mare in Transylvania with Operation Wallacea staring in three weeks time. @hedgiejim