The Decline of Tramuntana Sheep
Cres’ semiwild Tramuntana sheep are unique to the island and perfectly adapted to the karst pastures that were first developed by the Illyrians more than 1000 years ago. But now the island’s culture of free-range sheep farming is on the slide. A couple of decades ago Cres had 100,000 Tramuntana sheep; now it’s around 15,000. One of the main factors in this decline has been the introduction of wild boar by Croatia’s powerful hunting lobby. Boar numbers have grown exponentially (they have even spread as far as the campsites in Mali Lošinj). Wild boar prey on sheep and lambs.
Declining sheep numbers have an impact on the environment in many ways. Griffon vultures now don’t have enough sheep carrion to survive on, and they have to be fed at feeding sites by volunteers. As pastureland has dwindled, juniper and thornbush have replaced native grasses and wildflowers, with a resulting drop in plant biodiversity. Gromače (low stone walls used by sheep farmers) used to criss-cross Cres, acting as windbreaks and preventing soil erosion, but these are no longer maintained and many are crumbling away.