Wolf haul… the animals breed deep in the forest in winter. Photograph: Alamy
Deep in the vast enchanting forest, visitors track endangered wolves with a zoologist passionate about their survival
Dawn in the Naliboki forest: mist over the marshes and bats skittering in birch trees. Above the clearing, stars are fading into a pale sky. We’re in deepest God-knows-where in one of Europe’s largest wild forests.
Zoologist Vadim Sidorovich crouches in the half-light studying the track; I’m barely breathing, so intense is the silence. A brown bear, Vadim says. He traces a finger over the prints of its front paws, and – two ovals – its back paws. I can see the claw marks. A dozen bears roam this part of the forest.
But we’re not really here for bears: 30 minutes later we’re gazing at a meadow haloed in golden light, with roe deer grazing in long grass. This is wolf territory.
The 2,000 sq km Naliboki, in central Belarus, also has one of the world’s highest densities of lynx, elk, bison, storks and eagles. Tour operator Explore’s new long weekend to Belarus, however, is all about wolves.
Naust Eco Station, deep in the Naliboki Forest, has a fairytale-like feel
After a day in the capital, Minsk, visitors spend two nights with Vadim and his family – research assistant wife Irina, their children and their dogs, one a half-breed wolf – at a forest eco-station. It feels like the home of a fairytale woodsman, with handmade terracotta tableware and furnishings made of pine logs. Wifi?
Even the mobile reception is sketchy. “I like peasant life,” Vadim says. “People in this forest two centuries ago were happier than a billionaire.