How to reduce conflict

between humans and

More hunting?

In Slovenia, one quarter of bears are killed each year, but their numbers keep increasing (photo: Michael Bird)
Higher bear numbers can translate into more conflicts with bears, and the idea is in order to reduce the conflicts, you reduce the population number
Miha Mlakar, founder, Slovenian Bears
Hunters recommend a quota of bears every year to hunt. If the increase of the population is ten percent per year, the hunting quota would be ten percent of these bears, so the population is stable.
In Slovenia, a quota of bears is culled every year. In 2023, this was 240. This is a quarter of the country’s bear population, and larger than all the bears living in Slovenia’s neighbour, Italy.
Despite this high quota, the numbers of bears are still rising, and grew to over 1,000 last year.
Doesn’t this indicate the culling program does not function?
Hunting and farming lobbies in Slovenia argue this means more bears should be culled.
Environmental groups argue that the bears are overfed with corn from artificial feeding sites, and then shot dead as trophies by foreign tourists. Slovenia has turned into a bear farm.

The culling program did not prove as effective as some people would like to think or hope because we still have some conflicts. Conflicts are not due to the whole population but a few bears which are problematic. The way to go would not be shooting random sporadic bears, one here, one there, but only maybe shoot the conflict ones causing the problems
Maša Cerjak Kastelic, director, DZZZ (Society for the Protection of Animals Ljubljana)
Bear hunting is also a form of tourism, for trophy hunts. Bear-kills are sold to tourists in Estonia, Russia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.
Hunting lobbies in Romania and Slovakia want to bring back a quota of bears to be killed.
It is a renewable, living resource and, like any renewable, living resource, it can be exploited indisputably, sustainably and bring income to the respective country through direct or related activities
Mugurel Draganescu, Association of Hunters and Sporting Fishers (AGVPS) Romania
There is no perfect solution, there is no solution nor is it normal to extract the surplus of bears, because in Romania we have a suitable habitat for 4,042 bears.
“But we have between 8 and 9,500 bears. So in Romania we have double the number of bears. And then you can't shoot 4,000 bears, because that would be genocide
Bogdan Costescu, forestry engineer, Rasnov
Even then, human-bear interaction and human-bear conflict will remain even. We can look at hunting as a technical solution to reduce conflict, but it is not an integrative solution for coexistence
Mihai Pop, Association for the Conservation of Biological Diversity (ACDB)
Romania has many bears, but that's it. A great wealth compared to other countries that no longer have. That is, we must not take the bad example of France, Germany, Austria, which killed their bears. And under no circumstances can we accept hunting tourism, as is practiced. This is not good for Romania's image
Cristina Lapis, Libearty bear sanctuary
There are two main social groups or interest groups in Romania, who are interested in having a long term viable bear population - the hunters on the one hand, and conservationists on the other. I think these groups should work together in the future to ensure that bears have a future in Romania
Csaba Domokos, Milvus Group

Natural feeding zones

Those in charge of forests can develop natural feeding zones away from populated areas with fruit trees and bushes. This could be based on abandoned orchards.
A forest management that considers the creation of food areas for wild animals would be very beneficial. In areas with abandoned orchards, bears stay there in summer and autumn to eat fruit. They no longer eat garbage and the interaction with man decreases
Bogdan Costescu, forestry engineer

Fearless anti-


Because bears attack livestock, special dogs that do not fear bears can offer a solution.
Pietro D'Annessa, goat farmer, National Park of Abruzzo, uses a special breed of dog called a Pastore Abruzzese.
The guard dog is fundamental for grazing, because when you have a good group of dogs, they know what they have to do, and a dog he guards the herd until death. So the shepherd plus the dog allow a very good coexistence with the wolf and also with the bear.
We didn't use the electrified fence because wild animals are very smart, so either the bear or the wolf can damage your electric fence, and the herd is unattended.
With the guard dogs, it’s been two years since I've been grazing. I've had several attacks but never any predation.
These have metal collars to protect them from wolves, who lunge at their collars. But we do not put nails in the collars, which damage the wolves’ teeth, out of respect for the wolves.
We are here and we have to be here with all the other animals, so it has to be a balance
Pietro D'Annessa, goat farmer, National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, Italy

Electric fences

Cow and sheep breeder Alessandro Tamburro lives in the National Park of Abruzzo in central Italy, where his family has been rearing animals for generations.
Twenty years ago, a bear broke into his basement and savaged 30 sheep.
Since then he has put up electric fences.
“We manage to limit the damage with electric fences,” says Alessandro. “At night, when the herds return to the barn, there is the electric wire and the bear can't get in, but sometimes all he has to do is see the fence and he doesn't approach, even if there is no power.”
Wrapped in electricity: a restaurant at night in Baile Tusnad, Romania (photo: Michael Bird)
In Romania, the spa town of Baile Tusnad has 1,400 inhabitants and 300,000 visitors every year. This stands at the meeting point of two volcanic mountain ranges, the Harghita and Ciucului.
Therefore the town is a crossroads for wild mammals, including bears.
The town’s objective is to limit the time the bears spend in the urban areas. It has 600 electric fences that are installed every night around buildings and rubbish bins.
“We want a safe area and a town that is bear-safe and not bear-free,” says Istvan Imecs, biologist, Bear Smart City, Baile Tusnad, Romania.

-proof everything the bear can eat

Secure every feeding opportunity for bears
This means:
Closing compost heaps
Closing off orchards
Bear-safe trash bins
Placing beehives out of a bear’s reach, such as on the first floor of buildings

Relocate problem

There are regions in Romania where there are no bears. [Problem] bears should be taken there, given food, so they can find a territory. And then the bear wouldn't come down from those areas to the city
Cristina Lapis, Libearty Bear Sanctuary
In Romania, before local authorities can kill a problem bear, they must chase it away, and if this does not work, they must relocate the bear.
But this is a controversial solution.
It has been very clearly shown that relocation is a false hypothesis. Studies by the Institute of Forestry Research have shown that young bears relocated up to 20 kilometers will return in six days. Those relocated somewhere over 80 kilometers do not come back, but approach the nearest town
Mugurel Draganescu, Association of Hunters and Sporting Fishers (AGVPS) Romania
We've relocated bears, but they always go back to areas where they can find food, which is garbage dumps
Bogdan Costescu, forestry engineer

Chemical contraception of

If there are too many bears, there is the possibility of chemical castration of the bears for a period of time. It can stop reproduction for two to three years, to reach the level that the Romanian forests support
Cristina Lapis, Libearty Bear sanctuary
Limiting population growth by using fertility control is more likely to succeed if females, rather than males, are contracepted, according to research into black bears in New Jersey.

Time-share with

Lake Saint Anna is a crater lake, formed in an active volcano, in Harghita county, Romania. The beauty spot welcomes around 90,000 visitors every year. However this is a forested wilderness in the heart of bear territory, with an abundance of berries that bears love to eat.
“How do you manage being a tourist center and an ideal habitat for bears?” asks Levente Dosa, executive director of the association that administers the lake.
The lake bans picnicking, and the feeding of bears and locks up all its waste collection at night, protected by an electric fence.
But it also gives something back to the bears.
“We instated a visiting program,” says Dosa. “This means we divided the day in two periods - one offered for humans to visit, from nine o’clock till seven in the evening and after that we closed down the area for humans and we give back the territory for the bears to roam freely, so they are allowed to do their thing, without being disturbed or observed. Since we close down the area we don’t have precise knowledge of what is happening throughout the night. Perhaps they are bathing, perhaps they are feeding, perhaps they are sleeping.”

Stop taking close-ups of

Cars queue to take pictures of bears on the Transfagarsan highway, Romania
It has become more difficult to make nature lovers understand the importance of nature conservation. What is most important [for them] is to take the photo of the century, so the closest photo to the animals, and no one thinks about how much disturbance they can cause these animals. People should understand respect for the animals. Often respect means taking a step back
Daniela d’Amico, education and communication manager,  National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, Italy
In the National Park of Abruzzo, visitors are fined if they come closer than 300 metres to a bear. On the Transfagarasan highway in Romania, where bears beg on the street, it is illegal to take photos of them, and come within 50 metres. But this is almost impossible to police.

sanctuaries for human-habituated

In Europe, Austrian charity Four Paws has set up bear sanctuaries in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ukraine and Kosovo.
In Kosovo, the Pristina sanctuary is over 16 hectares, and houses 12 bears from Kosovo and seven from Albania.
Originally these bears are from the wild, we suppose the mother was killed and [bear thieves] took young cubs, first as a pet in the house and then they put them in a cage, and then in a restaurant as an attraction for clients. These are the main situations in Kosovo and in Albania
Afrim Mahmuti, executive director, Bear Sanctuary Pristina
Take the example of Stivi
Stivi was born in 2013 and kept in a small cage near a restaurant with another bear called Vinnie. The two fought, Stivi caught an infection in his eye, which he lost. He is now blind.
“The name Stivi is based on Stevie Wonder,” says Afrim Mahmuti. “It is a very nice bear and very intelligent. He has about 500 square metres and cannot socialise with other bears. But he likes to eat watermelon and other fruit vegetables and he is a really happy bear.”
Since 2014, there have been no restaurant bears in Kosovo. However restaurant bears continue to exist in Romania, Albania and Slovenia.
Since 2005, the Libearty bear sanctuary in Zarnesti, Transylvania has hosted bears kept outside restaurants, petrol stations and in mini-zoos, monasteries, factories or circuses. Sometimes, these bears were kidnapped in the forest and bear thieves shot the mothers. Bears here are recovering from trauma, such as living in a small cage, or suffering beatings from their owners, who sometimes forced them to drink and smoke.
There are 132 bears in the sanctuary, who have arrived from Romania, Albania, Armenia, Texas and seven from the war zone in Ukraine.
Over 100 bears mix from Ukraine, Texas and Romania in Transylvanian bear sanctuary
For a bear that has lived twenty years in a cage, freedom means nothing to him. When they came to us, these bears had to learn what freedom was.
When I brought the first bears, I bought them berries and put them in their enclosure. They stepped on them because they didn't even know what they were. They had been fed for twenty years with bread and corn.
In these pens they cannot hibernate, and it took them six months, a year, two years to hibernate again
Cristina Lapis, Libearty bear sanctuary


in the forest

Slovenia is special in Europe. We have very intense artificial feeding of wildlife, mainly
with corn. We have one artificial feeding site every 2.7 square kilometers. There are some places where bears have been fed for over 100 years.
One idea is to provide food for the bears in the forest to divert them from human settlements and reduce conflicts. One reason is baiting for hunting. Also they are used for monitoring the bear population
Miha Krofel, large carnivore expert, professor, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Hunting associations in Romania also used to feed bears in the forest, until the hunting ban came into force in 2017. Some forestry services in Romania still feed bears in the forest, which can be a place where tourists can watch bears safely.
Why artificial feeding works
Artificial feeding sites should provide food for the bears in the forest to divert them from human settlements and reduce conflicts.
They also act as a location to monitor the bear population.
They also act as a zone to bait bears for hunting.
[Artificial feeding sites] ensure a surplus of food for bears during periods when they do not find enough food. For example, in the spring, when they leave the den and find nothing to eat. It's a good opportunity for them to get through that more difficult time. Also in the fall, when they have to build up their fat layer. That food helps them a lot to make a consistent layer of fat to get through the winter much easier
Bogdan Costescu, forestry engineer, Rasnov, Romania
Why artificial feeding doesn't work
One study showed if this was a successful way of diverting bears away from a village, the effects were quite small. It only diverted bears away from settlements in the autumn. Most feeding is not helping with reducing conflicts.
Miha Krofel, large carnivore expert, professor, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
The more food there is available, the more bears there are. Artificial feeding consists of hunters putting out food for bears, especially corn.That means that we have more bears every year. And they don’t sleep in the winter because there is food available. And they usually go out of their dens and feed even in the winter.

Reducing artificial feeding of the bears would be a step in the right direction because the more food they get, the more bears we have, and the more we have to shoot.
Maša Cerjak Kastelic, director, DZZZ (Society for the Protection of Animals Ljubljana)
As part of our monitoring activities, we do not feed animals and we do not create attraction sites for the animals to be counted, as they do in other countries. It is a line we follow from the beginning: we absolutely do not habituate bears to human food whatsoever.
Natalia Bragalanti, monitoring administrator, Forestry and Fauna Service, Trento Province, Italy

Does human-

coexistence have a future?

The bear population tends to be managed on a country by country basis which means that any country has an obligation to have a viable bear population. I think this is a mistake, because the bears themselves don’t care about borders. If you see it in a larger context in the European population, there is no difference if you shoot a bear in Slovenia or over the border in the next country. It is the same population.
So I think the bear population should be more managed in an international context and managed as one population. In the Italian situation it is quite clear, there are just a handful of bears. To kill one is a big loss for the entire Italian bear population, but it is not a big loss in a European context.
Paul Veenvliet, biologist, bear watching coordinator, Slovenia
Bears are a part of nature and they have always been here. It’s usually us who are moving into nature or the areas where bears have always lived, so we are the guests in nature, so we are the ones who should learn how to coexist and it is possible.
Maša Cerjak Kastelic, DZZZ. Slovenia
Technical fixes alone, such as just distributing electrical fences and telling people you should have bear proof bins and you should do this and don’t do that is not sufficient in its own right. Those might be the appropriate tools, but you really need to bring people with you
There needs to be more focus on making sure that people feel involved, and are not just being told what to do and they have a voice as well
Local people can see that this is for them and someone is helping them
“They are being provided with financial support and practical support and even moral support, that they are being listened to and they are not just being described as part of the problem - they are included in finding solutions.
Robin Rigg, chairman, Slovak Wildlife Centre
The bear, with its charismatic and symbolic power, but also with the fear it inspires in people, should make us reflect on what it really means to coexist with the many components, all essential (not just the bear!), of the biodiversity on which we all depend. And how willing we humans really are to give up certain privileges or change our behaviour in order to facilitate coexistence with the natural world
Professor Paolo Ciucci, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy

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The production of this investigation was supported by a grant from Journalism in Europe IJ4EU and Journalism Fund Europe.