Stories from the field: Carnivore-human conflicts in Transylvania

By Ine Dorresteijn

When it comes to large carnivores, Romania differs from many other European countries. While large carnivores have gone extinct or remain in only small or heavily fragmented populations in most of Europe, Romania still harbors large populations of both wolves and brown bear. To conserve carnivore populations in Europe, large efforts are being made to improve the coexistence between carnivores and humans. In Romania, however, humans and carnivores coexist for centuries despite high densities of both humans and carnivores. Nevertheless, inevitably conflicts between humans and carnivores do also exist here. Our project is trying to gain more insight into the nature of these conflicts. At the moment we are conducting interviews with shepherds, villagers and village representatives about conflicts with carnivores. Here are a few stories we encountered while doing the interviews in Transylvania.

Shepherds in our study area encounter both attacks of both wolves and bears. To protect livestock against carnivores, shepherds use sheepdogs which seem to be quite an effective measure. Despite the fact that bear attacks happen more frequently, wolves are the most hated carnivore. Even shepherds that have never see a wolf have a strong aversion against them. One of the reasons is that wolves usually take more than one sheep at a time, whereas bears usually only kill one sheep. Therefore, most shepherds have the opinion that bears should not be removed from the area in general, but that bears that frequently kill sheep should be shot. The support for wolves, on the other hand, is low. Most of the attacks happen during the night; nevertheless, attacks during the day are not rare. We even witnessed the end of an attack from wolves on a sheep herd during our interviews! Below is a movie clip that shows the wolves running away after the attack.

Not only shepherds but also villagers encounter problems with especially bears. As bears are partly vegetarian, they love to eat fruits, maize and honey. To get to these food items they sometimes visit the villages and destroy orchards, maize fields and bee hives. Below is a picture of a destroyed beehive (Pic. 1). The owner of the beehive said the bear destroyed 20 of his hives and left only 4 standing in his garden (Pic. 2). In another village a man showed us where a bear had tried to destroy the storage shelter for his maize (Pic. 3). On the picture the owner shows where you can still see the marks of the nails, which gives an impression of size of the bear. The two places where the wooden bars are missing were torn out by the bear. Even though bears give troubles, when we ask the villagers if they have any further opinions on bears, most of them just shrug or mention that the bear also has to eat. There are just few that want to shoot the bears, although in almost each village there is someone with this opinion.

When we ask about bear attacks on humans themselves, people often answer first with “Yes that happens”, “Bears often attack people”, “There are too many bears”, and “They are dangerous, we have seen it on the news”. However, when we specifically ask them about their village, no incidents between humans and bears actually have happened. This shows that the opinion of people on the danger of bears is mainly fuelled by the media. Especially at the moment discussions about the danger and conservation of bears are heating up in the Romanian media after a person in a different county was attacked by a bear not so long ago. For an article in English please follow this link.

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