Recent deaths by brown bears in Romania reignite management debate

Experts estimate that Romania is home to about 6 000 brown bears (Ursus arctos). And the Carpathians, specifically Romania, have the highest population of brown bears in Europe. But the increasing bear population is straining Romanians’ acceptance of their huge neighbours. And a recent slew of deadly bear attacks have brought this relationship again to the fore. From 2000 to 2015, brown bears killed 11 people in Romania. And the 3 recent deaths occurred within over a month. Incidents and general encounters are also on the rise. This is all leading to a debate on how to handle the bear population and on just how bad the problem is. A recent BBC article on these deaths stated that the “mood is such that some politicians have waged something akin to a war on bears.”

Role of the media

Like many large carnivores, brown bears need extensive areas for roaming. So, in addition to the deaths there have been extensive accounts of property damage along with an atmosphere of fear. In response to the rising population, certain hunting groups want to reverse a 2016 ban on bear trophy hunting. They blame the law on the recent rise in attacks. The media’s enflamed coverage of the bear problem is also stirring a desire for action against bears in the public. Responding to this, Romanian legislators recently permitted the hunting of brown bears for the next five years. This is a noticeably more liberal quota than what was allowed in the 2018 Action Plan.

Global rise in bear numbers

shutterstock_522023629.jpg - European Wilderness Society  - CC NonCommercial-NoDerivates 4.0 International

Romania is not the only country with an increasing bear population and subsequent rising tensions, however. Large carnivore attacks are actually on the rise globally. These attacks appear quite sensational in relation to increasing population trends. And, publishing dramatic responses to bear attacks can unduly increase fear if unaccompanied by facts or tips on avoiding and handling bear encounters. Furthermore, there are misconceptions between increasing bear populations and bear attacks related to myths of bear habits in developed areas. An article published in Nature that looked into worldwide brown bear attack trends mentions the role and power of the media to either negatively or positively influence future encounters. As exemplified in Romania, the media can focus on fear rather than education, distorting the reality of the threat brown bears pose to humans. Additionally, anti-bear biases may spread outside of countries like Romania with large bear populations to places where populations are threatened, harming conservation efforts.

Education, not hunting

The Nature article stated that “one of the most important ways to minimize this type of conflict is to gain a deeper understanding of the circumstances triggering large carnivore attacks, as well as of potential factors associated with such incidents.”

This is sound advice across the board. But, one must acknowledge Romania as an exceptional country of bear attacks. The article states that there is annual attack rate of 18.2 in Europe (from the years 2000-2015). But, 8.2 of those attacks occurred in Romania. Also, the behavior of the people involved in the attacks in the country was quite different than elsewhere. The article specifically suggests the implementation of educational campaigns in Romania. And fascinatingly, it mentions that they found, globally, “no significant difference in the number of attacks between ‘hunting’ and ‘non-hunting’ countries” (emphasis added).

“…one of the most important ways to minimize this type of conflict is to gain a deeper understanding of the circumstances triggering large carnivore attacks, as well as of potential factors associated with such incidents.”

Bombieri, et al.

For more information on why hunting large carnivores is sometimes justified, see our article:

So investigating the major causes of brown bear encounters in Romania, rather than focusing on culling, should produce better results. For example, studying the effects of forestry on bear habitat or the gender dynamics of their scavenging of human food/waste should reveal more logical ways to mitigate attacks. But using and sharing this knowledge with the public would only solve part of the issue in Romania. The country’s lack of data and out-of-date protocols on brown bear management, for example, are also significant hindrances to establishing effective protocols. Whether through research, reporting, or policy, any response to large carnivore attacks must be based on facts and their objective interpretation.

Wild Carpathians

The Romanian brown bear population is but one of many exceptional features of the Carpathian Mountains. While heavily fragmented by roads, logging, and farming, the Carpathians nevertheless hold some truly wild nature. Within secluded dells and gorges yet live ancient groves, and the country is a web of beautiful streams and rivers. Yet protecting these ancient woodlands and rivers has hit road bumps like with the brown bear problem.

Nevertheless, some of the wilderness has fortunately been protected, such as the Retezat Wilderness, and efforts continue. In fact, EWS presently leads one of the most important and ambitious protected area projects in the region, Centralparks. An extraordinary vision requires an extraordinary plan. So, Centralparks seeks to conserve nature in the Carpathians using a long-view approach with strong involvement with local stakeholders and communities, and with careful consideration of the economies and ways of living present in one of Europe’s natural and cultural treasures.

2 thoughts on “Recent deaths by brown bears in Romania reignite management debate

  • Congrats Angel for your comment. You are 100%right in each aspect of your speech. I live in Transylvania (in a small town) and I must be very careful each time I go for a nature walk. Bears are not cute Teddy bears!

  • Bears are apex predators. If they see humans as no threat, they will prey upon humans. Bears eat their prey alive, it is one of the most gruesome deaths to die, it is not quick or painless. Balance needs to be restored. Bears need to fear humans and avoid human habitats. Hunters make bears fear humans, thereby protecting humans and keeping bears away.

    Those who want bears to proliferate out of control should go and live in those villages where bears target children as easy prey, and will take on grown men without hesitation. Human life is far more important than a wild creature that sees humans as food. They are killers. Why protect a killer that seeks out humans to eat alive?

    There are misconceptions of bears in the wild. They are not cute cuddly creatures. They are wild animals whose only interest in you is to eat you. An intelligent and balanced approach is needed. Educate yourself on the habits of bears, in particular their eating habits. Their carnivorous eating habits. Educate yourself to how they view young prey (children) and other young animals.

    Educate yourself on the role of man to keep the natural order in nature. We are apex predators that control the environment responsibly. When that control is given away irresponsibly in allowing an apex predator to grow out of control, serious problems arise. Those people attacked and eaten by bears were someone’s family. Imagine if it were you or your family that was the victim of a ferocious bear attack.

    Stop playing games with people’s lives in order to cater to a false sense of philanthropy, your crime is against your fellow man in favor of a wild creature that would sooner eat you than look at you. Those are the well educated facts of the matter.

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