Guest post by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar
It was a beamful cold day in October when a brown bear cub crossed my path in the subalpine area. Bewildered, he was probably wondering about its mother’s whereabouts. I was wondering about the same thing too. I always ask myself where the mother bear is when I encounter a cub. Meeting a mother bear with cubs or a wounded bear is one of the most dangerous situations for humans. This experience reminded me that in different parts of the world, we are afraid in the wild of different circumstances: for instance in some eastern European forests we are afraid of encountering bears or wolves, in South Africa you might be afraid of a lion roaring in the bushes, and in the Arctic you might feel safer floating away from a polar bear on an ice sheet.
I am aware of the fear I have when I am trekking through the Romanian Carpathians. It taught me how to behave and respect the animals and their territory. But when it comes to a bear’s territory and the resources it offers, some conflicts naturally arise. By talking about conflicts, I am not referring to the understory plants competing for light. It is about a common conflict nowadays: between human beings and bears. This conflict is common on other continents too, but I will concentrate on Romania as the country has the largest population of brown bears in Europe after Russia, estimated at 5,000-6,000.
Făgăraș Mountains, Romanian Carpathians, Romania. Photo by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar.
In Romania, bears are blamed for damaging crops, attacking livestock and orchards, for wandering towards garbage bins in search of food, and sometimes they are blamed for attacks on humans. Concurrently, bears face several threats, including habitat fragmentation. Human beings are increasingly protruding into bear territories and thus humans are interfering with the bears’ habitat and resources. The close presence to human settlements is uncomfortable for many inhabitants, a situation that often leads to conflict. Therefore, the positive or negative attitude towards brown bear is developed based on experiences.
Is a brown bear attacking your crop? You could just as easily blame a beech or an oak tree! There are years when these trees do not bear fruit, so bears have to search for nourishment in other areas. Of course, we shouldn't blame the trees for these scenarios, but we should rather concentrate on finding solutions for these cases. Protection systems for sheepfolds, orchards and crops are already reducing human-bear related conflicts in some areas of the Romanian Carpathians. Electric fences have also proven useful and stop bears from damaging villagers' crops. Electric fences are also used to protect the sheepfolds from attacks. These are just a few steps toward effectively managing these conflicts. There is a need for sustaining and spreading these good practices.
Another measure which could improve the situation is correctly estimating the bear population, as hunting organizations often exaggerate population estimates of over 10,000 brown bears. Due to unrealistic numbers, the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests establishes high annual harvest quotas for bears. Fortunately, Romania banned all trophy hunting of brown bears in 2016. Drawing more awareness among citizens, a responsible management of garbage in bear-populated areas, corridors connecting the fragmented habitat and reducing poaching are also measures with long-term effects.
There are many cases where measures have been taken, but bears are still perceived negatively in some areas because of the continuous conflicts which have been happening for decades. At the same time, Romania's bear population could dwindle while we are debating about the best solutions to counteract said conflicts. Therefore, this sensible issue has to be handled in a timely manner and rather effectively. We as humans have to realize that we are part of problem because we have contributed to this scenario by activities that lead to habitat loss or destruction. Finally, we should remind ourselves that in unfragmented forests we have a chance to listen to the background sounds like the bears growling, deer grunting or capercaillie males singing during courting season, and many other animal noises. These are the sounds of biodiversity which highlight the power of ecosystems to ensure the well-being of its inhabitants, not conflicts.
Some information included in this post came from the following online resources: (1) http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/problems/human_animal_conflict/human_bears_wolves_conflict.cfm. Last accesssed: 12th December 2016; (2) http://www.wwf.ro/?206227/WWF-Romania-isi-gestioneaza-populatia-de-urs-in-mod-iresponsabil. Last accesssed: 12th December 2016; (3) http://milvus.ro/Mammal_Conservation/ro/large-carnivores/faq-about-wolves-and-bears-in-romania. Last accesssed: 24th October 2016
Post written by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar
Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar is currently completing a master's degree in geomatics at Babeș-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca. She has a bachelor's degree in geography and a master's degree in ecology and conservation. Her research focuses on the impact of climate change on alpine plants. She's also interested in the analysis of stable isotopes of carbon from soil and their relation with the climate. Moreover, she is always working at her personal development by attending trainings such the Summer School on Alpine Plant Life from Switzerland (2015) or participating in WWF projects. You can reach Lacramioara on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/convi.convallaria