Brown Bear (Ursus Arctos, Linnaeus 1758) Conservation and Research Programme in a Model Area in Romania
Project location: ROMANIA, Eastern Transylvania
Project start date: June 2012 - Project end date: June 2013
Project number: 2012-018
Beneficiary: Association Milvus Group
This is a research and educational project on Brown Bears conservation in Romania.
The brown bear is the most widespread member of the bear family (Ursidae). At one time it inhabited most of the Northern Hemisphere, all the way from the polar regions to the subtropical zone. It dwelled in Europe, Northern and Central Asia, Japan and North America, even on the fringes of the tropical regions of South-Eastern Asia. Today bear populations - excepting Russia, Canada and Alaska - are everywhere in decline. Due to human persecution, destruction of habitat, loss of feeding grounds and food, bears have been restricted to a fraction of their former habitat.
Their numbers are being further reduced by trade with certain body parts of the species (such as the gall bladder used in traditional Eastern medicine - the active ingredient of the gall bladder can be found in 54 different herbs). The present world population numbers from 125 000 to 150 000 individuals. European brown bears now number about 50.000 and, excepting the North-Eastern populations, are found mostly in isolated pockets with relatively few individuals. A significant population other than that in North-Eastern Europe (37.000 individuals) is found in the Carpathian Mountains (8.100) and the Dinaric Alps-Pindos Range (2.100). Noteworthy is the Scandinavian population, which 70 years ago was on the brink of extinction with 130 individuals, and has now grown to 1000 bears. This 10% to 15% yearly increase in population is the greatest that has been recorded in the species anywhere.
The Romanian Carpathian Mountains are the last place in Europe, outside Russia, where large numbers of wild predatory animals coexist with high numbers of people.
The Transylvanian virgin forests shelter hundreds of species of plants, trees, insects, birds and animals.
The shepherds that spend seven months per year on the green pastures of the Carpathian summits train their dogs to fight the beasts if necessary. And villagers are used to losing the odd pet or domesticated herbivore to wolves and bears.
Brown bears, being scavengers and omnivores, are quite able to live off the food that Romanians throw out.
But there are increasing fears that they will soon become extinct in this part of the world. Romania is one of the very few countries in Europe that permits limited bear hunting.
Earlier this month, a number of people - including French President Jacques Chirac and actress Bridgette Bardot - wrote a letter to Romania's Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to voice their concerns about the fate of the bear.
Their letter was partially in response to the government's decision to allow the shooting of 300 bears this year.
Hunting-tourism has become big business in Romania's Carpathian Mountains, the last place in Europe, apart from Russia, where many large carnivores - bears, wolves and lynxes - can be found.
This project received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation. To reach its goals, the activities foreseen by the project are the following:
Objective 1: Improving the social acceptance of the species:
Activity 1.1. Continuing and further consolidating the ongoing education program about bears: this activity is carried out in the project's target area, as well as in cooperation with the Tg. Mures ZOO. The education program consists of PowerPoint presentations and educational games, as well as short fieldtrips.
Activity 1.2. Performing an information campaign in localities throughout the project site: distribution of brochures realized previously within the project. This material (available in Hungarian, Romanian and English languages) contains information on bear biology, ecology and about the threats facing the species, as well as on methods for the effective prevention of damages caused by bears.
Activity 1.3. Supplying the media with materials about bears and about the project.
Objective 2: Improving scientific knowledge about the species - conservation oriented research work:
Activity 2.1. Improving scientific knowledge about bear home ranges, movement and activity patterns, habitat use: is done through the monitoring of collared bears. The association already possesses all the necessary equipment for that: 2 cage traps, a tranquilizer rifle, a Yagi antenna and a high capacity radio receiver, etc.
Activity 2.2. Improving scientific knowledge about bear den characteristics and denning habits: is carried out through the continuous mapping of bear dens (by various means: through local foresters, hunters, loggers, or by snowtracking and revisiting the area in the spring), recording various characteristics of the dens and then monitoring to gather data on the re-use of the structures.
Activity 2.3. Improving scientific knowledge on bear food habits and diet composition: it will be done through analysing fresh bear scats, collected during monthly highway route monitoring (Activity 3.2.) in the project's 2 target sites.
Activity 2.4. Parasitological study: the association is looking for internal parasites of bears in samples collected from multiple sources (scats from the field and from ZOOs, and from inner organs collected from legally hunted bears), while bears captured for our telemetry study (Activity 2.1.) will be checked for ectoparasites.
Activity 2.5. Genetic study of bears: samples are collected from hunters and during our own trapping activities (Activity 2.1.). These are analyzed by the Senckenberg Research Institute (Germany).
Objective 3: Securing a suitable habitat for the bears:
Activity 3.1. Inclusion into the Natura2000 network (European network of protected areas, designated on the basis of the EU's Habitat Directive): we still have 4 proposals (a total of approx. 90000 ha) for new Natura2000 sites for bears, which were not officially accepted (the other 5 proposals we had are already designated, functional protected areas for bears, with a total surface of 102628 ha) - we are trying to push these through, by various approaches.
Activity 3.2. Mitigating the negative effects of the planned highway section crossing the site: the section of the planned highway within the project's target areas is checked for trails regularly used by bears. The sampling is carried out on a monthly basis, in each of the 2 project sites, for 2 consecutive years. The goal is to identify the main corridors used by bears across and/or along the planned highway route. In 2013, based on the data gathered from the present activity (supplemented with data from activities 2.1 and 2.2), the association will prepare a set of concrete proposals for adequate crossing structures / fragmentation mitigation measures.
These are the aims of this project:
- A total of 5 scientific articles submitted until the end of calendar year 2013
- New scientific data, which can be used to improve the current management plan and resulting practices regarding brown bears in Romania
- 4 new protected areas (Natura2000 sites - SCIs) designated for bears in Romania, all located in vital areas for large carnivores
- Set of concrete proposals for adequate crossing structures / fragmentation mitigation measures along the future highway in the project's two target sites - this would form the starting point for negotiations with the planners of the highway and with relevant Romanian authorities.
Mission "Milvus Group" Bird and Nature Protection Association is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, acting in the fields of education, research and advisory, in order to make Romania a better place for birds, wildlife and people. A few very enthusiastic young bird-watchers founded the Milvus in autumn 1991. Soon after this, the association joined the Romanian Ornithological Society, becoming its branch in Tirgu Mures. Since the end of 2001 the Association for Bird and Nature Protection "Milvus Group" became an independent registered NGO. Since February 2009 Milvus Group is recognized as research and development institute by ANCS on base of HG551-2007.
Some of its previous achievements regarding brown bears:
• Mapping and measurements of a total of 36 bear dens and 3 "open nests" so far (2008 - August 2011) - it is currently preparing a joint scientific article with Croatian experts on bear den characteristics, den site selection and implications for nature conservation efforts
• Monthly data-sets on bear movement corridors / patterns across the planned highway sections within the 2 project sites (since January 2011)
• GPS-GSM collars mounted on 3 bears so far (2011): a large male, a relocated sub-adult male (which was coming into a town to feed on waste) and a mid-sized adult male, that it has freed from a snare set by poachers
• Confiscation of 2 illegally kept bear cubs (2011). Both cubs ended up in a rehabilitation center (near Balan, Harghita County, Romania), and after approx. 2 years spent here, they will be released into the wild
• A series of successful education activities on bears for scholars and teachers alike in the project's target sites (since 2006), as well as with in co-operation with the Tirgu Mures ZOO
• Implementation of successful damage prevention methods in the project's target sites (2006-2008): several electric fences purchased from project funds and mounted (even though in the meanwhile we have finished purchasing and donating electric fences to local farmers, on request we can still provide consultancy on how to prevent damages caused by bears in livestock, agricultural fields or orchards)
• Genetic samples collected from 29 bears so far (this particular research is carried out in co-operation with the Senckenberg Research Institute, Germany)
• Successful designation of 5 new protected areas for bears: the new Natura 2000 sites (SCIs, based on the EU's Habitat Directive) mean a total of 102628 ha of new protected areas for bears in Romania - all in crucially important areas.