A lot has been discussed about the majestic animals of the African safari or the unique fauna of the rainforests in South America that many wonder how animals live in other parts of the world. Civilization and progress may have driven their wildlife to more remote areas but with a plethora of natural and semi-natural habitats—from tundras to maquis—Europe is home to interesting fauna too.
Of the 270 species of mammals found in the continent, 78 are endemic. There are over 800 species of birds in Europe. 75 amphibian species including 56 endemic ones also call the continent their home. 344 species of fresh-water fish abound in Europe's water bodies. Of these, 200 are found only in the continent. Over 100,000 invertebrate species are also found there. Reptilians diversity includes both venomous and non-venomous snakes, lizards, turtles, etc.
Below are listed some of the iconic species found in Europe:
The European Bison, scientific name Bison bonasus, is also known as the wisent or zubr locally. They were hunted to extinction at the beginning of the century—the last populations of which were gunned down in the Białowieża Forest in 1919 and Western Caucasus in 1927. But thanks to conservation efforts, they have now been rescued from the brink of total extinction in other areas and are being reintroduced to their habitats throughout the continent. They can be found throughout western, central, and southeastern Europe.
While these giants have long been extinct in Ireland and Britain, some populations still roam in some parts of Europe including the Balkans and the Carpathian Mountains. A small population can also be found in the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Apennines. Known by its scientific name Ursus arctos, the European brown bear is found mostly in Eurasia. Although brown bears, in general, are not listed as endangered, their habitats are continuously shrinking due to human activity. Many of them fall victim to massive poaching.
European Tree Frog
The Hyla arborea, commonly known as the European tree frog, is a small species of tree frog that can grow only between three to five centimeters. They inhabit the insular forests and dense vegetation of floodplains, in marshlands, stream banks, and lakeshores across Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. They are listed as of least concern on the IUCN Redlist, but their population seems to show a steady decline in recent years due mainly to habitat loss.
The European Shag, scientific name Phalacrocorax Aristotelis, is a long-necked bird about the size of a goose. They are found throughout Europe—in Norway, Greece, Ukraine, Iceland, and Portugal. In the UK populations are found in the coasts of Wales and South West England (especially Devon and Cornwall). There has been a decrease in its population although it is not currently considered endangered and is included in the list of animals of least concern.
European Pine Marten
The European pine marten, scientific name Martes martes, is also known as sweet marten. Native to Northern Europe, these small agile animals can also be found in the forests of Central Europe as well as some parts of Asia. In the UK they can be found mostly in Scotland but a few live in some areas in England. While the International Union for Conservation of Nature, considers these animals stable and of least concern in most parts of Europe, in Britain populations are dwindling fast that only a tiny population remains in the forests of Wales and northern England.
European Green Lizard
This large lizard commonly known as the European green lizard, scientific name Lacerta viridis, is found throughout Europe. It is native to Southeastern Europe but can also be found in Eastern Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Romania, Ukraine, and Greece among other areas. The IUCN lists the European green lizard as being of least concern since a large population still thrive in the wild across Europe today.
This medium-sized feline, scientific name Lynx lynx, is the third-largest predator in Europe next to the brown bear and the wolf. The lynx can be found in Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe as well as Central Asia and Siberia, the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. At the beginning of the century, these animals have gone extinct in some parts of Europe due to unabashed hunting and habitat destruction. Although repopulation efforts have brought them back in countries like Switzerland albeit as of today, their populations remain small.
Greater Spotted Eagle
The Greater Spotted Eagle, scientific name Aquila clanga, is a migratory raptor that lives across Europe and migrates to the Middle East and Asia during winter. In Europe, they are classified as endangered with less than 1000 pairs remaining in the wild. Around 16% of Europe’s population occurs in Belarus and 4% in Ukraine, according to wildlife conservation group Polesia Wilderness Without Borders.
Common European Viper
The Vipera berus commonly known as the European adder or Common European viper is one of the most venomous snakes in the wild. Although they are not particularly dangerous since they only bite when provoked or picked up. They mostly live in the North of the Arctic Circle in Europe, Western Europe, and East Asia and are the only venomous snake native to Britain according to the UK Forestry Commission. While they are listed among those of least concern by the IUCN, in Britain these species are protected since they are believed to be facing extinction and could disappear by 2032 if no interventions are put in place.
The European Moose, scientific name Alces alces, is known as elk throughout Europe. They can be found all over Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Estonia, as well as some parts of the Balkans, Italy, and Poland. Thankfully elks are not considered endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List, because populations are thriving in many parts of the world. Although in Europe some populations are dwindling mainly due to hunting. Many are getting gunned down or hit by cars on roads in Central Europe.
Threats To Europe's Wildlife
Urbanization, agriculture, mining, and deforestation among other factors have caused many natural habitats in Europe to shrink. While others like the Saiga tatarica and tarpan were pushed to extinction, many large animals like the bison and lynx retreated to what’s left of their natural habitats away from human invasion.
To mitigate the effects of urbanization on Europe’s wildlife population, many countries have taken measures to protect the animals within their territories. Numerous non-profit organizations in Europe also work tirelessly to conserve biological diversity and protect natural habitats all over the continent.
Agreements have been forged between EU countries that have in turn pledged to protect the continent’s wildlife diversity.
The Bern Convention
The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats is a legal instrument that aims to protect and preserve Europe’s natural heritage as well as its flora and fauna. Signed in 1979, it became the first international treaty to bring together various countries to protect both animals and their habitats.
Fifty countries as well as the European Union have signed the agreement and pledged to support national conservation measures and policies, aid conservation research, and promote the education or information dissemination about wildlife conservation.
The first of its kind worldwide, this Bern Convention, also aims to protect endangered migratory animals and encourage countries to integrate wildlife conservation into their national planning and development policies. Countries that have signed the agreement are given certain obligations that move towards the protection of their flora and fauna as well as their habitats in their territories. All of them are expected to promote national conservation policies, establish legislative and administrative measures to conserve wildlife, co-ordinate efforts to protect migratory species, adopt measures against pollution, regulate human activity that can destroy habitats and put animals at risk.
Forty years after its adoption, many countries in Europe have successfully brought back animals from the brink of extinction.
Europe’s most popular wildlife recovery success is the comeback of the European bison. These mammoth animals were pushed to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century due to massive habitat loss and unfettered hunting. Thanks to the efforts of many organizations, scientists, and conservationists, the bison was rescued from extinction and is now being reintroduced to their natural habitats across Europe. Free-ranging bison herds are now found in countries like Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus.