Nestled between Montenegro and Greece on Europe’s Balkan peninsula, Albania offers an unspoiled and picturesque getaway. A former communist state, this mysterious nation remained closed to outsiders until 1991, meaning there is still so much to discover.
From the azure waters of the Adriatic to the enigmatic Accursed Mountains, visitors are treated to some of Europe’s most charming scenery. However, this abundance of beautiful landscapes provides plenty of hiding space for some seriously scary critters.
While most of Albania’s wildlife is relatively tame and poses little threat to tourists, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for – especially if you are planning an adventure to the more untouched areas of the country. Here we take a look at seven of the most dangerous animals in Albania to watch out for.
Largely considered to be the most dangerous snake in all of Europe, let alone Albania, the nose-horned viper can be distinguished by the small horn on its snout. Although quite rare, they are native to rural areas in Albania, all the way from the coast up to 1800m above sea level. Hikers may run into one of these slithery suckers if they are headed to rocky, dry slopes or light-filled forests.
During summer, the horned viper is largely nocturnal, while it hibernates during the coldest months. Spring and autumn are the times where you are most likely to run into one, as they are more active during the day at this time. It generally feeds on lizards, mice, and small mammals but has also been known to climb trees and bushes in search of birds and their eggs. Usually moving at a languid pace, the nose-horned viper rarely attacks larger animals (such as humans), preferring to hiss loudly or retreat. However, it has been known to bite when provoked.
Also going by the name of sand viper, the snake can grow up to 95cm in length, with unusually long fangs of around 13mm. It can often be hard to spot due to its brown, gray, and black markings, helping it to blend into its surroundings. A darker zig-zag dorsal stripe on the back can help you identify it. Nose-horned viper venom is highly toxic, and can even be fatal in some cases.
In humans, symptoms usually appear almost instantaneously and include pain, swelling, discoloration, and dizziness, leading to more serious symptoms such as breathing difficulties, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and internal hemorrhage. A bite should be treated with antivenom as soon as possible to prevent life-threatening symptoms.
The not-so-cuddly brown bear is known for being the second largest species of bear in the world, second only to its white, polar cousin. It can primarily be seen in the mountainous regions to the north, east, and south-east, and is protected by the Albanian government due to rapid population decline. There are now estimated to be only around 180 to 200 individuals left in the Albanian Alps. This means if you do go down to the woods today, you’re highly unlikely to run into bears having a picnic.
That being said, brown bears are large and powerful and have been known to attack when provoked. Mother bears can be very protective over their cubs, while youngsters can be quite curious around humans. Brown bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell and may be attracted by your campfire if you happen to be cooking up something delicious in a far-flung spot.
If you do run into a bear on your travels in Albania, experts recommended making lots of noise to make your presence known. Walk away slowly. If you see an adorable bear cub on its own, resist the urge to approach. In all likelihood, its mother is just around the corner and won’t thank you for getting involved.
Mediterranean Black Widow
Arachnophobes, look away now! The Mediterranean black widow is one of the scariest spiders in Europe. It has a venomous bite that can cause some rather nasty effects. This includes convulsions, muscle cramps, and a lowering of the body temperature, lasting for several days or weeks. The bite is rarely fatal, although those who are very young, old, or have a weak heart can suffer more serious complications. Black widows usually only bite if startled or threatened.
Black widows can be found throughout the world and are named for the female’s tendency to eat the male shortly after mating. If that wasn’t creepy enough, this eight-legged critter features fearsome red or cream markings, and a shiny black body that can grow up to 15mm across. In the case of the Mediterranean black widow, the males stop eating prior to mating, resulting in a more dignified but still fatal outcome following procreation.
Thankfully, black widow spiders are rarely found indoors and tend to inhabit grassy or rocky areas with a warm climate. They build their webs close to the ground in abandoned mouse holes or piles of rocks. There is an antidote to help with pain relief.
Common European Viper
Looking remarkably similar in coloring to its nose-horned relative, the common European viper is one of the most widespread venomous snakes in Europe. It goes by lots of different names, including the common European adder and the Balkan cross adder (a sub-species specific to the region). It grows to a maximum length of around 60cm, with a large, flat head and relatively thick body.
It generally preys on mice, voles, shrews, and lizards, and is unlikely to attack a human unless alarmed. This could happen if you accidentally step on one or attempt to pick one up. Pregnant females have been known to emit a loud warning hiss rather than fleeing from sounds of potential danger, as is usually the case.
The venom’s toxicity is quite low compared to other snakes, with fatal bites becoming increasingly rare. Symptoms begin with a local swelling and tingling sensation around the affected area, with spreading pain and tenderness over the next few hours. Children can be more affected, while anaphylaxis is rare but possible. Bites are most common during the summer months as these snakes also hibernate over winter. They are most active during the evening and morning and care should be taken to avoid walking through tall grass and undergrowth.
The Balkan Lynx is a beautiful predator which is now classed as critically endangered. One of the rarest felines in the world, it is native to eastern Albania, with a mere 15-20 individuals now predicted to reside there. Populations have been in rapid decline due to illegal poaching and habitat destruction, with forests regularly being cleared for firewood and construction purposes. This also leads to a reduction in prey, further exacerbating the issue.
The feline’s natural prey mostly consists of small cloven-footed animals such as deer. It attacks by leaping on unsuspecting prey, sinking in its claws, and delivering a fatal bite to the jugular.
As the largest wild cat in Europe, the Balkan lynx can reach weights of around 25kg, lengths of up to 120cm, and a height of 50 to 70cm. It is characterized by its stunning, spotted coat, almond-shaped eyes, and long, graceful tufts of dark fur atop its ears.
As the legend has it, looking into the eyes of a Balkan lynx will render you blind. In reality, although a skilled hunter, the Balkan lynx poses little threat to humans. The large cat is unlikely to attack unless threatened but has been known to attack domesticated animals. In other words, keep your dogs on a leash when hiking in eastern Albania.
Native to forest habitats throughout Europe, the Eurasian wolf is gray-coated and found usually in Albania’s mountainous and Alpine zones. Throughout the ages, it has become somewhat dependent on hunting grazing animals and other livestock. This means movements of a pack often follow those of domesticated goat herds, which migrate to mountainous pastures during the summer and to lower areas during the winter. A consequence of this is that wolves are sometimes considered a ‘pest predator’ and killed by farmers, leading to sustained population decline. More natural prey includes roe and red deer.
Wolves were once abundant throughout Europe in the Middle Ages and held in high regard by many cultures and countries. Individuals average around 39kg, measuring around 105 to 160cm in length, and have coarse, tawny fur. Shoulder height is somewhere between 50 and 70cm.
Wolf attacks on humans have been documented for several centuries. The majority of these are caused by rabies, a viral disease among mammals resulting in violence and inflammation of the brain. Provocation is another possible cause of a wolf attack, along with feeling cornered or threatened.
Wolves have also been known to attack isolated small children when food is scarce. If you do encounter a wolf in Albania, stay calm, make yourself appear taller, and back away slowly, maintaining eye contact if you can.
One more venomous viper concludes this list of the most dangerous animals in Albania. The meadow viper is an endangered species found only on Korabi Mountain in eastern Albania. As you might expect, it favors meadows and pastures in alpine regions and is known for being the smallest viper in Europe. It has the characteristic markings of a viper, brown and earthy in color with a darker zig-zag pattern on its dorsal, and reaches an average length of around 45cm. It has a thick body and narrow head, with some larger scales on top.
Due to its short fangs, the meadow viper can only inject small amounts of venom. Bites are regularly asymptomatic, although can result in local pain, swelling, numbness, and hematoma. In a small number of cases, these symptoms can extend through the limbs, while transient spells of dizziness, nausea, and hypertension have been recorded. It is unclear whether these additional symptoms are caused by the bite itself or situational anxiety. Antivenom is usually available at local hospitals but rarely required.
What is the Most Dangerous Animal in Albania?
Without a doubt, the most dangerous animal in Albania is the nose-horned viper. Its large size, long fang size, and highly toxic venom mean it is most often responsible for fatal attacks. This is especially the case in highly rural areas far away from hospitals and therefore antivenom.
Are There Bears in Albania?
Yes, there is a relatively small population of brown bears that reside in the Albanian Alps. Unfortunately, populations are in decline due to hunting and habitat loss.
Are There Venomous Snakes in Albania?
Yes, there are several species of venomous snakes in Albania, most notably the common European, nose-horned, and meadow vipers listed above. Meanwhile, the Eastern Montpellier snake is a semi-venomous species with rear fangs that reduce the possibility of injection and low toxicity. The cat snake is also venomous but not considered a threat to humans as it rarely injects venom when biting in defense.
Does Albania Have Lions?
No, Albania does not have lions living in the wild. There are some lions living in captivity in zoos and safari parks. The biggest wild cat species in Albania is the Balkan Lynx, which is critically endangered.