No trip to Osijek (see earlier posting) is complete without a trip to Kopački rit. It's a vast area of wetland, covering 177 square kilometres and harbouring a huge diversity of flora and fauna. Part of the area is a specially reserve, observed but not interfered with by man - nature is left entirely to its own devices here; the rest of the Nature Park is open to commercial activities such as hunting, shooting and fishing, and Tito had a grand hunting lodge in Tikveš where he used to entertain statesmen and celebrities alike.
Kopački rit is in the centre of the Danube floodplain and bounded by the Danube and the Drava, a major tributary of the Danube. Carp, catfish and other species of fish come from these two rivers to spawn, and the whole area once hosted a thriving fishing industry. When the area became protected in 1967, and fishing was banned, the locals turned to growing vegetables in the fertile soil. The northern part doesn't flood, but, in spring after the ice thaws in the mountains, the waters in the southern area can reach up to 9 metres high and there are therefore different specific characteristics, and flora and fauna, for each part.
The picture shows our small group climbing aboard the visitors' ferry for a guided tour of the protected area though the waters were unusually low for autumn so we couldn't go very far. However we were able to see cormorants in abundance, grey herons cleaning up what the greedy cormorants couldn't keep down, kingfishers, white willows, mistletoe, and crab and water rat holes. On another day, and/or in another season, we might have seen red deer, the rare white tailed eagle, muskrats, otters, frogs, storks or white egrets.
In fact we may have been somewhat distracted by our fellow visitors - a Spaniard and New Zealander, both vets specialising in red deer genetics. That, together with the input of our extremely able and informed guide Renata, led to a fascinating tale of events turning full circle - one of the most successful red deer herds in New Zealand, founded by the Englishman Graham Carr, owes a lot to the blood lines of Tito's deers. A number of these deer were exported to New Zealand before Croatia's Homeland war. Then, during the war, Tito's herd was all but wiped out by the Serbians who occupied the area feasting on venison. However our New Zealand vet friend, Mike, returned to Croatia after the war with embryos from the original herd to replenish stocks. As a further twist, the reason for Mike and Antonio's visit this week was to improve the genetics of a local herd that are part of a hunting "farm" - effectively the hunting organisation's owners want the superior genes (in one respect at least) of the current New Zealand herd so that their visiting recreational hunters can get better antlers for their trophys.
And our most important tip - if you can't bear mosquitoes, avoid the summer months. Depending on the water levels, they're not always a problem but when they are, they really are. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit in any event.