North Macedonia’s parliament has approved legislation to grant protected status to the country's section of the Shar Mountains in what the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) called a "historic" move after more than 27 years of debate.
A majority of 66 lawmakers present in the 120-member parliament voted on July 1 to create the Shar Mountain National Park, which conservationists say will offer more room to roam for the critically endangered Balkan lynx.
Since the new 627-square-kilometer park borders others in Kosovo and Albania, the move will create one of Europe's largest transboundary protected areas of more than 2,400 square kilometers, the UNEP said in a statement.
Poaching, combined with habitat loss due in part to illegal logging, has shrunk the Balkan lynx populations in North Macedonia down to barely 50.
The mountain range is also home to brown bears and wolves.