Romania: Malancrav – Edge of Somewhere

June – August 2016

I think we’ve just tumbled off the edge. Viscri took us close to modernity; Malancrav reminds us that the real world is rural, dusty, and cut over with scythes. The fifth Saxon village of this expedition thumps with Roma music over a background base of barking. Every night, one dog yelps, and the cry is caught by another, and another – the barks bounce around the village like a tennis ball. It’s like listening to a relay team.

Where else can you find a goat inspecting your camp?

Goat in Malancrav

Where else can you mull over both haystacks and graveyards?

Malancrav camp

And where else can you wander out of the farmhouse to spot an aesculapian snake trying to nibble the herpetologist’s arm?

Aesculapian snake

This is only a small aesculapian. Fully grown, they can reach over two metres and count amongst Europe’s largest snakes. They are not venomous.

But I’m ready to be tracking mammals after the difficulties of Viscri. As a point of order, Trailcam 4’s number is not transferred; it retired with the camera’s death, like a famous footballer’s shirt number.

We have a long, long walk through the heart of Malancrav before we even turn off towards the wood. It’s a world of small sights: the well has a huge branch balancing its bucket like a see-saw. A man with a checked shirt is driving a haycart, and pauses to tell us that a cow has been attacked by a bear. Another horse is driven past with yellowish flem dripping from its jaws; its owner shows no mercy. More trusting are tiny puppies – a little girl shows one to us, beaming.

And then there’s the terrier…

Alin and Oscar

We thought we were here to collect data, but, alas, the real reason is to walk this dog. He trots after us for hour upon hour, never doubting that we will bring him safely home.

He takes little interest in his wild neighbours. Here is a footprint from one of the largest: a wild boar.

Wild boar track

And one of the liveliest: a stone or pine marten.

Stone marten track

So we return to base – and it is there that a blonde woman walks up to us, smiling.

In her hand is the stolen camera!

Trailcam 4

She hardly stops long enough to be thanked. Eventually we establish that:

  • shortly after I set Trailcam 4 in Viscri, a poacher came across it. He panicked, thinking it was a police sting operation, and snapped it off the chain.
  • Two days afterwards, he went to a wedding in Viscri, and jovially asked another guest how trail cameras operate.
  • Unluckily for him, this other guest was our host back in Mesendorf.
  • Our local friends in Viscri joined up the dots and ran a SWAT operation to retrieve the camera.

Or something like that. Trailcam 4 is immediately put back to work.

We badly want it to catch a bear after its troubles.

Trailcam 4 RIP

6 thoughts on “Romania: Malancrav – Edge of Somewhere

  1. I remember seeing that kind of snake in northern Serbia, when I was 15 I think. My grandparents had a vineyard on a hill overlooking Danube near Slankamen, and one summer, while walking on a dusty side road, I’ve seen it basking in a hot afternoon sun. It was huge, probably about 2 meters long. It got scared when I came and disappeared in a nearby bush.
    Good to see you got camera back 🙂


    1. That was a lucky sighting. The aesculapian in the photograph is the only one that I’ve ever come across. I would like to see an adult.

      I was amazed and humbled by the energy that the Viscri guys put into rescuing that camera. Getting it back was a good moment.


  2. A very interesting post, Adele … It is nice to know that the modernity of Viscri faded away so completely as you moved away from it.. And may I say that I’ve never seen such a huge haystack!

    The snake is one not familiar to me; my only comparable experience is with common garter snakes, at home on the island … they are quite easy to handle, and provided one does so gently, they seem to calm down and be perfectly content to wrap themselves around one’s fingers and arms. One doesn’t like to let them get inside one’s clothes, though … they’re the very devil to get out! The babies are incredibly cute.

    That terrier looks for all the world like a Jack Russell … if so, it’s no wonder he followed you: they a VERY intelligent, and he wanted to see what you were up to.

    Good you got your cam back!


    1. It was nice to see ‘real’ haystacks that had been built by pitchforks as well as the modern Swiss roll version. Some of them had ladders going up their sides!

      The aesculapian is not a well-known snake (possibly because its name is so hard to spell) which is rather a shame, because it is a splendid creature. I’ve met a few garter snakes in North America, and they’re really beautiful. I have seen European grass snakes behave in the manner that you describe if they’re handled gently.

      I think the dog was a JR type. A bit bigger than the average. He followed numerous survey teams that week, including the butterfly team when they were on the infamous Transect of Death (very long and very steep) and the students were practically carrying him by the end. But he still wanted to keep coming. He must get very bored outside of the survey season.


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