The brown bear lives in the dense forests of mountains and valleys. In Europe, the brown bear lives in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Russia, the Balkans and Scandinavia. In Italy and Spain it lies on the verge of extinction. The brown bear is extinct in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Hungary, UK, Ireland. Romania is the country where nearly 40% of the European bear population lives in the Carpathian mountains, making it the second most populous country after Russia.
The bear is a strictly protected species registered in the EU Habitats Directive (Natura 2000), but the high value of bear trophies, between 4.000-15.000 Euro per bear, keep the population of brown bear in the official national censuses unrealistically high. In September 2016, the government renewed the new hunting quotas to 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 Lynx and wild cats. The government was accused of using a system that counts and kills wild animals for profit (source).
Deforestation, a major threat for the brown bear, is the interest of large corporations in which local governments are silent accomplices: “Major Austrian timber firm accused of illegal logging in Romania” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/21/holzindustrie-schweighofer-austrian-timber-firm-accused-of-illegal-logging
Though Scandinavia’s territory is much larger, the bear population is lower due to less food availability in the typical cold environment. The harsher climate and the lower hunting quotas makes hunters lean towards Romania and the Balkans as hunting grounds.
After Romania’s admission into the European Union in 2007, the free market made itself felt in a negative way: logging by foreign companies increased, hunting became popular and a source of money for the government, and shepherds are being forced to give up their traditional way of life in the mountains to make room for “eco-parks” and middle-class residential resorts in mountain valleys. These projects fragment the ecosystem which cant support wildlife anymore.
Hunting, an expensive privilege and hobby for Western upper-class hunters who flood Romanian and eastern European mountains in the hunt of species that can no longer be found in Western Europe. For a bear trophy, hunters pay 4.000-15.000 euro.
Every year, dozens of bear cubs are orphaned in the forests of Romania due to deforestation and hunting which go unpunished, despite the bear being protected by law.
“Romania has today the biggest population of European Brown Bear and absolutely without doubts the biggest trophies.” See more here – http://www.europehunting.com/en/hunts/european-brown-bear-hunting-in-romania
“Why hunting in Romania? It’s very simple… Romania is one of the few countries in Europe where the habitat and game are unaltered by human civilization. Wolves, bear and lynx inhabit primeval forests”. See more here – http://www.hunting-in-romania.com/
“With its alpine meadows and peaks and ancient pine forests, there is plenty to keep the hunter amused! Romania is truly one of the best European destination for the serious bear shot.” See more here – http://www.realbig5.com/general/16/romania/39/brown-bear.html
Historically, hunting in the Carpathians of Moldavia and Vallachia was not restricted solely to nobility and it consisted mostly of wild birds, rabbits, deer, boar and foxes. Hunting in the Transylvanian Carpathians was more organized; hunting reserves were first established in the XV century by the Hungarian and Austrian nobility who had exclusive rights over hunting. By the XIX century, the mountains of Transylvania were a hunting hot spot for European nobility and royalty due to its diverse fauna which was already dying away in the West. Hungarian nobility developed their own hunting dog called the Transylvanian Hound. In other parts of Europe, the bear meat was a delicacy for the aristocracy.
Following intensive hunting and logging for export in the last centuries, ten animal species became extinct in Romania, see list here http://www.descopera.ro/natura/3994360-top-10-cele-mai-importante-animale-disparute-din-romania
Today, more species are endangered including the European Brown Bear, the Grey Eolf and the Eurasian Lynx. In a silent concerted effort from governments and corporations, national parks are now being sold by piece to private businesses. Conservation Carpathia foundation lead by billionaire Hansjörg Wyss bought thousands of hectares from Piatra Craiului national park with funds from the European Economic Area grants and with prince Charles as its top promoter (see here).
National Park – protected areas administered by sovereign states which cannot be alienated.
The foundation intends on buying 50.000 hectares in the southern Carpathians (the highest and most dense mountains in Romania) to turn them into the “Yellowstone of Europe”. Over 3.000 hectares of hunting territories were bought so far, where the largest bear populations can be found.
While the foundation manager assures the public that the park is solely for conservation, he also admits that a part of the park will be exploited (source). Activities such as logging, extraction of resources, hunting and organic agriculture in the very fertile soil are sure to turn the “European Yellowstone” into a diverse profitable business. Much like the beautiful national parks of South America and Africa where western mining, logging and agribusiness take place in protected areas, the conservation trend used as a cover up for private businesses is developing in Romania too.
While the old Romanian mountain villages and houses were scattered and man lived in harmony with nature without invading and scouting the environment day after day, modern tourist settlements and other residential projects (example) are large, crowded and invasive to the ecosystem. The projects fragment the ecosystem which cant support wildlife anymore.
In the last years, more and more green groups around the world are being accused of selling out to corporations (“WWF International accused of selling its soul to corporations” The Guardian, 2014).
The best chance for genuine conservation is to stop deforestation, stop sport hunting and “let nature be”, like the humble shepherds wisely did for centuries.
In Prahova valley – one of the most crowded areas where deforestation is intense and real estate projects spring up like mushrooms year after year – the bear is visibly affected. “Garbage bears” are a common sight for over two decades and even mothers with cubs, who normally are very wary, are seen sitting by the road or looking through garbage bins for food.
Bears are primarily vegetarian which is why forests, with the diversity of fruits, plants and insects are vital to them.
Bears are shy creatures who hide from humans at the slightest noise. Only in exceptional circumstances do they become aggressive – when they feel threat, especially the mothers with cubs.
Bear filmed in the Eastern Carpathians on Salard hunting ground
In attempts to justify the rise of hunting quotas, the government and media constantly refer to the bear as a dangerous intruder and use examples of “savage attacks on property” Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population (The Guardian, 2014). A hunter pays 4.000-15.000 Euro for a bear trophy.
Without any reference to the cause (deforestation and hunting), politicians and the media describe bears as savage dangerous creatures who need to be eliminated. In September 2016, the government renewed the new annual hunting quotas to 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 Lynx and wild cats. The government was accused of using a system that counts and kills wild animals for profit (source) while their real numbers are lower than the official statistics.
The brown bear first disappeared in Great Britain ten centuries ago due to overhunting.
Due to their ancient pastoral lifestyle, Romanian, Balkan and other Carpathian shepherds have long lived alongside bears, wolves and other predators. During summers, shepherds lead their herds across the rich mountain pastures, accompanied only by a few helpers – the sheepdogs. Surrounded by meadows and forests, livestock is constantly a target of predators, though the latter will only attack when extremely hungry. If losses are registered, shepherds will not feel the need to kill off predators – but instead will see it as part of nature. Lately, it is modern man who causes more harm to the shepherd than the bear itself (see more here).
On the other hand, French and German shepherds, and even the Bavarian environment minister were openly relieved when the few bears reintroduced in forests were killed: 2009 – French Pyrenees: bad news bears, 2006 – 170 years on, wild bear returns in Germany – to a death sentence, 2013 – Switzerland’s only wild bear is shot.
The bear in Romanian mythology
The Bear is deeply instilled in Romanian history and traditions. The bear is regarded as both a strong fierce animal, and a godly creature. The biggest and strongest bear is called Mos Martin, a mythical character in Romanian mythology.
The Bear dance is a pagan dance ritual practiced in Moldavia’s villages until today. Though part of the winter celebrations, it’s not related to Christianity; the dance is part of the many archaic traditions inherited “din moşi-strămoşi” (from distant ancestors) which use various animals as motifs, depending on the region (Moldavia, Transylvania, Vallachia). They’re practiced around New Year Eve as fertility rituals that celebrate the renewal of life during the winter solstice. During the dance, the animals die and come back to life. The bear dance stems from the bear being venerated as the strong animal who managed to defeat winter and announce spring.
These archaic rituals can be found in various shapes all across Europe from the Carpathians, to the Alps (see here) and the Scandinavian mountains (see here) as they represent a common folk inheritance from pre-Christian times.
The Winter Martinii (Martinii de iarna), celebrated between 1-3 February, the Day of the Bear (Ziua Ursului) celebrated on 2 February, the Bear’s Saturday (Sambata Ursului) and Macaveiul Ursului celebrated on 1,2 and 13 August – are archaic festivities dedicated to the bear.
The winter celebrations are connected to the bear ending hibernation; by following the bear’s behavior, farmers knew when the warm season was approaching. According to tradition, if the bear cannot see its shadow on the snow, the winter is nearing its end and bears end hibernation.
The summer celebration is connected to honey/ fruit harvest and the peak of the bear mating season – when bears move around more than usual and they may accidentally face humans. Which is why on these days, people don’t work. On August 13, a special celebration is held with honey pies and wine sweetened with honey, with the belief that it will protect domestic animals from bear attacks, and protect people from attacks during honey and the fruit/ berries harvest (since honey and fruits are part of the bear’s diet).
Bear orphanage in Harghita, Romania
Ten years ago, Leonard Bereczky founded the Orphan Bear Rehabilitation Centre in the Hăşmaş mountains of Harghita County (Eastern Carpathians). The Centre has managed to save more than 100 baby bears, who were returned to the wilderness as adults. The basic principle of the orphanage is minimal interaction with humans, but continuous monitoring is performed by an expert.
This year, the Bear Orphan Centre occupies 20 hectares and houses 10 orphaned bear cubs. “We expect for this number to double over the next 10 years,” says mister Bereczky.
“The bear is an exceptional animal. It is the animal that has managed to survive in the most severe conditions: from desert to arctic areas. Bear cubs are equipped with all the necessary for their survival: for example, the instinct to escape danger or to take refuge in trees when approaching danger; they know from birth what they can eat. All survival instincts are genetically encoded. Because of this, rehabilitation is possible so we can take care of bear cubs without the presence of the mother and become genuine representatives of their species, “explains Leo Bereczky.
“We designed and developed our rehabilitation method which basically means copying a real natural environment. Once they leave the Centre, they are monitored in order to track their evolution as animals reintroduced into the wild.”
News report from 2012 – Seven bears released from Bear Orphanage Harghita
Baby bear saved from a ditch by train workers (amateur footage below). Story here http://www.igj.ro/actualitate/pui-de-urs-salvat-dintr-un-sant-in-apropiere-de-manastirea-lainici.html