How the state can put fear into bears ANALYSIS

Faced with the alarming increase in bear incidents in Romania, such as the recent tragedy in Bușteni, the authorities are increasingly under pressure to review the protection policy and adopt effective measures. Ovidiu Ionescu, the vice-dean of the Faculty of Forestry and Forestry at Transilvania Brașov University and president of the General Association of Sport Hunters and Fishermen from Romania emphasizes that the lack of hunting and the uncontrolled growth of the brown bear population leads to dangerous situations.

Romania has almost half of Europe’s bear population – Photo Archive FB Claudiu Bercea

Ovidiu Ionescu, the vice-dean of the Faculty of Forestry and Forestry within Transilvania Brașov University explained in an interview for “The Truth” what protective measures against bears should the Romanian state take to avoid tragedies like that of the young woman killed by a bear in Bușteni.

It was only a matter of time before such a case, he says. On July 9, a 19-year-old woman was attacked and killed on Jepii Mici in the Bucegi Massif. The young woman was accompanied by her friend, who alerted the authorities. The bear attacked her on the path and dragged her into a precipice.

The bear is a powerful animal at the top of the food chain. He was afraid of man, as long as there was hunting and bears were hunted. Since 2016, they haven’t been hunted and then those who were born since then, have become mature, big bears that don’t know fear of humans, and then why shouldn’t they eat humans too? There is nothing abnormal in their behavior. Our behavior is abnormal, because we don’t hunt them, we don’t reduce the population, the population is too big, we don’t reduce it and then they lose their fear of humans”, states Prof. Dr. Eng. Ovidiu Ionescu.

Too many bears in Romania

There are about 8,000 bears in our country, which is almost half of the total population of brown bears in Europe and double what we should have. The situation is the result of a lack of proper management of the bear population, also evidenced by recent genetic research. Bear hunting has been banned since 2016, which has led to overpopulation.

Last year there was a hunting quota of 140 bears. The Minister of the Environment, Mircea Fechet, will propose to the Romanian Academy a new order for the prevention and intervention quotas for shooting 500 bears.

It is the same number that came out of the study, which was not approved by the Commission of Natural Monuments, the Commission of the Biology Section of the Romanian Academy, where there is no man who has at least the basic principles of fauna management, there is only a representative from an environmental organization that defends animal rights.“, draws attention to Ovidiu Ionescu.

“If you see how she’s eaten…”

Ovidiu Ionescu points out that bears can only be hunted in extreme situations, when they cause repeated damage and other management measures have been exhausted, such as driving them away or tranquilizing them. Bear hunting is usually not desired or considered a priority. Even more, hunters are discouraged: “Do you know what happened to the game warden who went and shot the bear, who rushed to the rescuers and ate the tourist? He gave statements to the police, until 1 in the morning. So nobody shoots bears anymore. To the hunter who shot the bear from Sibiu, his weapon was taken away, he was prosecuted for a year. He said: “if you are crazy, you can only be eaten by bears.“, says the expert.

The Prahova police opened a criminal case for hunting poaching against the people who shot the bear that killed a 19-year-old girl yesterday.

A criminal case was filed against him. What should he have done? Let the bear eat the girl? If you see how it’s eaten on my back and legs… and now I’m getting goosebumps. That’s why we are able to file a criminal case against the person who shot the bear. Well, why don’t we file a criminal case against all those who did not let the bears be shot, who are complicit in the death of people, after all.”, asks the vice-dean of the Faculty of Forestry in Brașov indignantly.

Measures to “put fear into the bear”

To avoid such tragedies the authorities must have a proper management of the bear population.

To reduce the population and put the fear of man back into the bear, not to attack the man to eat him. If we are very protectionist and want the population of Romania to disappear and make a zoo… but that is not possible either, agriculture and animal husbandry must also disappear in order to regulate the population, it is not regulated naturally. Two-thirds of the surface of our country is agricultural and zootechnical space. Bears can eat cows and sheep and any domestic animal and can eat corn, wheat, oats, until the population reaches hundreds of thousands of bears”adds the expert.

The Minister of the Environment, Mircea Fechet, criticized the effectiveness of the bear relocation method in the context of the recent tragedy, stressing that this practice does nothing but move the problem from one place to another. Fechet announced the intention to propose an order for the management of intervention and prevention quotas for 500 copies.

It is a beginning. At least scare them. And if you do it annually, then the natural growth of the bear population is also reduced. At the moment, bears with cubs are pushed towards these cultivated spaces. And then, instead of giving birth to two cubs, because that was enough food for them in the forest, they give birth to three or four cubs and the population increases greatly. It’s been eight years, since no hunting has been done and since all these bears are pushed into the agricultural space. We are making fun of the state’s money. We pay more and more compensations, we have more and more accidents, we have more and more poisoned bears, because people have nothing to do. And then it comes to this demented situation. Well, at least Mircea Fechet was the first to have the courage to raise at the Council of Europe that the state of the bear in Romania must be changed. No European state wants to take bears from us“, says Ovidiu Ionescu.

According to former Environment Minister Barna Tánczos, bear damage has increased 50-fold in the past seven years, and financial damage has increased 500-fold. In 2023, the National Environmental Protection Agency (ANPM) awarded compensation worth over 11 million lei for the damage caused by bears, respectively 84% of the total compensation.

Recommendations for tourists

The President of the General Association of Sports Hunters and Fishermen from Romania recommends that we have a strong spray with irritating substances with us when we go to the mountains, because “otherwise you don’t escape“.

He does not believe that the 19-year-old tourist could somehow prevent the attack.

“The group of tourists didn’t do anything, they were walking along the trail and the bear appeared and took the girl. It wasn’t the bear with cubs, she saw food. It is abnormal for us to be eaten by bears, but for animals… Normally, even if you make noise and talk, there is no danger. But this bear had the intention of eating, so you can do what you want, if you have such a specimen, you only attract it, such a specimen must be shot.“, says the expert.

Ursoaica will be tested for rabies, according to the director of the Sanitary-Veterinary and Food Safety Directorate (DSVSA) Prahova, George Stratulat. However, Ovidiu Ionescu says that “the animal that has rabies does not eat“.

To avoid unwanted encounters with bears while hiking, the Maramureș gendarmes recommend that we always go in groups and make noise to alert them of your presence. Using a bear bell attached to your backpack can be helpful in keeping them at bay. Hiking in fog or rain should be avoided, and food should be kept in tightly closed containers so as not to attract wild animals and hung away from the campsite. It is useful to have a whistle around the neck and pepper spray or even firecrackers to scare the wild animal.