Fallow deer in Brijuni National Park. Apart from its unspoiled nature, this park is also a place steeped in history, since the Declaration establishing the Non-Aligned Movement was signed there in 1956, during the Cold War.

Geography and population

Nature protection

A large number of protected natural areas and features show that Croatia is a country of exceptional, diverse, and comparatively well-preserved natural beauty, of which some examples, such as the Plitvice Lakes, are famous throughout the world.

The first legal norms in Croatia by which natural goods were protected date back to the 13th century, when deforestation in the area of Trogir, Korčula and Dubrovnik was restricted. The movement to protect nature, founded by experts, began in the 19th century.

The Nature Protection Act defines 9 categories of spatial protection, and the most beautiful, most valuable protected areas comprise two strict reserves, eight national parks and eleven nature parks.

Nature protection areas (names in Croatian)
Rožanski and Hajdučki Kukovi Strict Reserve, part of North Velebit National Park.
Plitvice Lakes National Park

Bijele Stijene and Samarske Stijene in Gorski Kotar and Hajdučki Kukovi and Rožanski Kukovi, in the area of North Velebit National Park, areas with irreplaceable natural features, are strict reserves.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, the oldest national park, declared in 1949, and inscribed in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List in 1979. 

National parks cover extensive, unique areas with one or more preserved ecosystems. The Plitvice Lakes National Park and the Krka National Park boast unique karst morphology and hydrology, with magnificent travertine waterfalls and lakes. Kornati and Mljet are island national parks with unique landscapes and abundant underwater worlds. The Brijuni islands include cultivated parks and valuable cultural and historical heritage from classical times. Risnjak, Paklenica and North Velebit are mountainous areas with characteristic relief features, such as many limestone rocks and deep canyons, with high meadows and extensive woods, home to many endemic species.

Mljet National Park
Skradinski Buk, a waterfall in Krka National Park. This is where the first hydroelectric plant in Europe was built, thanks to Nikola Tesla.
Brijuni National Park, declared in 1983, one of three island national parks

A nature park is a partially cultivated area with important ecological features, in which certain economic activities are permitted. Of the 11 nature parks in Croatia, 6 are in the mountains (Velebit, Biokovo, Medvednica, Papuk, Učka and Žumberak–Samobor Heights). Telašćica and Lastovo islands are island parks whose qualities include a wide range of land and marine biodiversity. Kopački Rit and Lonjsko Polje are low-lying wetlands, habitats for rare animal species and home to original folk architecture. Vransko Lake is an especially important ornithological site for nesting and overwintering.

Risnjak National Park
Paklenica National Park
Crna Mlaka near Zagreb, an ornithological reserve

National and nature parks cover a total surface area of 5,151 km², which is 9.1% of the country. Other protected nature categories are special reserves, regional parks, natural monuments, important landscapes, forest parks and monumental park architecture. All nature protection activities are managed by the State Agency for Nature Protection.

Kopački Rit in Baranja, declared a nature park in 1967
Opeka, not far from Varaždin, the most famous arboretum, along with Trsteno near Dubrovnik
The wolf (Canis lupus) is one of three strictly protected large beasts in Croatia

Certain protected areas have been included in the international system for nature protection. The Plitvice Lakes are on the World Natural Heritage List; Mount Velebit and the Mura–Drava–Danube regional park are part of an international network of biosphere reserves (Man and the Biosphere – MAB), while Kopački Rit, Lonjsko Polje, the Neretva Delta, Crna Mlaka and Vransko Lake (since 2013) are on the international list of valuable wetlands (Ramsar Convention). Papuk Nature Park is part of the European network of geoparks.

The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), known locally as the merman, is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. It spends part of its life on land, in caves or other inaccessible places. 

With Croatia’s entry into the EU, all protected areas, along with those which have been recognised as valuable, will become part of the Nature 2000 ecological network of land and marine sites.

Endemic flora and fauna

The flora of Croatia is characterised by biological diversity (biodiversity) and has its own peculiar quality. In terms of the number of plant species found, Croatia is ahead of most European countries. Due to climate differences and the position of coastal areas, which are in the Mediterranean region, the vegetation in such areas is quite different in composition and appearance from the lowland and mountainous areas inland, which belong to the Euro-Siberian region. This is particular evident in forest vegetation, but can also be seen in other types of ground cover.

The griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) is another endangered species. There are over 70 nesting pairs in two ornithological reserves on the island of Cres.
Bats (Chiroptera) are regular inhabitants of underground caves
The white stork (Ciconia ciconia), a protected species with about 1,500 nesting pairs in Croatia

Apart from biological diversity, peculiarity is also important, as reflected in the large number of endemic species, mostly on the Adriatic islands and mountain ranges of Biokovo and Velebit. There are 8,871 species and subspecies of Croatian flora (according to some estimates, over 10,000), of which 526 (about 6%) are endemic, and 1,088 (about 12%) protected.

The otter (Lutra lutra), a protected species
The brown bear (Ursus arctos). In Kuterevo on Mount Velebit there is a bear sanctuary for cubs orphaned as a result of accidents or poaching.
The olm (Proteus anguinus) is endemic to the Dinaric karst region

Croatian fauna consists of all animal species which live permanently or occasionally in the country. In Croatia, there is an overlap of a range of animal species characteristic of northern Europe and those which mostly live in the western or eastern Mediterranean.

The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) lives mostly in the waters around the island of Lošinj
The lynx (Lynx lynx), a strictly protected species, is a permanent inhabitant of Gorski Kotar and Lika
Velebit degenia (Degenia velebitica), the best known endemic species, also grows on Mount Velebit

According to current knowledge, there are 23,876 species and subspecies of Croatian fauna, of which 565 (2.4%) are endemic and 1,624 (6.8%) protected.

Endemic species are found in almost all animal groups, but most are found among species which live in the karst region and the rivers which flow into the Adriatic, and on the islands. There are 88 species of fish in the karst rivers of the Adriatic confluence, of which 41 are endemic, while over 50% of reptiles are endemic. The underground karst world is even more diverse: the Dinaric karst has the highest density of troglobite species in the world (80).

The Croatian carnation (Dianthus croaticus) is an endemic species which grows in Gorski Kotar and Lika
The Croatian iris (Iris croatica) is an endemic species which grows in the northern part of the country
Sibiraea croatica (Sibiraea altaiensis subsp. croatica), a relic of the Tertiary period, grows on Mount Velebit