Census could be a blessing or a bane for Romania’s bears – .

Census could be a blessing or a bane for Romania’s bears – .

Bucharest (AFP)

Romania will soon conduct a census of its endangered brown bears using DNA for the first time, with increased tensions between villagers fearing further attacks and environmentalists warning of looser hunting laws.

Incidents with hungry bears descending into villages have sparked anger among residents in a country that has seen around 100 attacks in the past three years.

A loophole in the hunting ban that allows shooting at so-called pest bears is already being abused, say activists, who fear an increase in killings if the census reveals the protected species is not not so threatened.

Sport hunting – which attracts amateurs from all over the world in search of a “trophy” – has been banned since 2016.

But in a recent controversial case, environmentalists accuse a Prince of Liechtenstein of killing a brown bear, named Arthur, during a March hunt in the Carpathian Mountains – using a permit to shoot a bear believed to be a nuisance for residents.

Activists say the 17-year-old bear was the largest in the country, seen in the region for years.

Yet while the loophole from the hunting ban can be abused, residents are also fed up with endemic bear attacks – and want to be protected.

– ‘The villagers are afraid’ –

Last month, a bear killed a shepherd and seriously injured another in the eastern part of the wooded and mountainous region of Transylvania.

“The situation has become untenable,” Marton-Csaba Bacs, mayor of the village of Bixad, in central Romania, told AFP.

“Every day bears ransack orchards and attack sheep. They even entered the courtyard of the clinic… The villagers are afraid. “

Activists say the 17-year-old bear named Arthur was the largest in the country, seen in the region for years. – Agent Vert ONG / AFP / File

In the nearby town of Harghita, the home county of Environment Minister Barna Tanczos, bears were seen on a train platform and even in the kitchen of a restaurant, according to police, who were called 12 times in a single weekend last month to keep them away.

In this tense context, the census results can lead to a standoff between environmentalists and hunting advocates.

While activists welcome the census plan, they fear it could lead to the ban on hunting being lifted if authorities deem there are too many bears.

“Collecting samples and interpreting statistics in a transparent way is crucial,” World Wildlife Fund Cristian Papp told AFP.

– Stool analysis –

Romania has long been known to have the largest brown bear population in the EU, but the number of endangered species that actually roam the Carpathians has remained unknown until now.

In the coming months, 400 experts and volunteers will take samples of faeces and hair for DNA analysis, thanks to a European fund of 11 million euros (13 million dollars), Tanczos told AFP.

Authorities say the 1990s figures of more than 6,000 brown bears in some 30 percent of the country, especially the Carpathians, are underestimated.

The census project also provides for the creation of a bear sanctuary. Daniel MIHAILESCU AFP / Dossier

While the methodology used so far – counting traces in mud and snow – is unreliable, collecting droppings and hair will create a database of samples, each duly stamped with a barcode, according to the minister.

The procedure can provide a wealth of information, including an animal’s gender and family ties, says Robin Rigg, president of the Slovak Wildlife Society, which used the same methodology to count wolves.

– ‘Massacre in preparation’ –

Casting a wide net, the number of samples “should be around three times the expected animal population,” said Djuro Huber, professor at the University of Zagreb.

The census project also provides for the creation of a bear sanctuary.

Last month Bucharest passed a decree giving local authorities the right to authorize nuisance bear shooting, speeding up a laborious process that could take weeks.

Now, within hours, aggressive bears could become a legal target – a move widely condemned by activists.

“A massacre is brewing against these often starving animals, victims of logging, the destruction of their habitat and an attempt to demonize by groups of hunters,” said the Brigitte Bardot Foundation in a letter to the Romanian president .

Tanczos dismissed the accusations as “unfounded”, saying the first option for dealing with the pests will always be their relocation, although he admits that human-bear relations “have deteriorated.”

“If the state does not intervene, there is a risk that desperate people will resort to illegal solutions to settle this conflict,” he said.


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