On the co-existence of people and large carnivores: good examples wanted

By Tibor Hartel

This entry was inspired from recent news in BBC. The particular country names are unimportant – it can be any European country. What seems to be important is the relationship between nature and us and our whole economic and social situation, from which seems that it is very hard to escape (a widely applied method in the modern society to escape this situation is to create illusions – conservation science may be one such an illusion). And the eternal story: whenever is the case, nature and wilderness should suffer because nothing can stop our development.


Gray wolf (source: Wikipedia)

A recent news in BBC shows that those ca 270 wolves from Sweden (or ca 260-330 for Scandinavia according to other sources) are too much for this country: they cause ‘huge’ (financial) damages for people and the country seems to not be able to cope with this problem. The population size of the wolves should be, therefore, reduced. The surface area of Sweden is about 450,295 square kilometres, and the human population density is 21 per square kilometres with most of population concentrated to the southern part of the country. Circa 17% (ok, say 20!) of the population lives in rural areas. Besides this, there are many institutions in Sweden dedicated to biological conservation and nature resource management which pump probably several thousands of papers in strong scientific journals in the fields of conservation and applied ecology. The gross domestic product (GDP) is between the highest of Europe in this country.

By contrast, Romania has a surface of ca. 238,400 square kilometres with a human population density of ca 80 per square kilometre. Nearly half of the Romanian population lives in farmlands. Romania has ca 4000 wolves and ca 6000 bears. They also make problems (perceived or real) for people and there is a huge environmentalist resistance (Romanian and foreign) against shooting them. Romania is famous for the corrupt governance, low(est) GDP in Europe, ethnic conflicts, lack of competitiveness in science at international level and so on. However, Europe`s highest large carnivore populations are in Romania, and the traditional farmlands of Romania (hay meadows and pastures) are between the richest on the world in terms of plant diversity. Ironically, this exceptional natural heritage is inherited from the traditional societies, who never had institutions for biodiversity conservation! Romania should protect this heritage as a common international value.

Can somebody give an advice on how to cope with 4000 wolves and 6000 bears and also allow development in Romania when other countries with high GDP and high profile conservation research cannot do that with 250 wolves? It seems sometimes that conservation biology and related stuff works well  on papers but not in the real world (I think this is a societal weakness).


8 thoughts on “On the co-existence of people and large carnivores: good examples wanted

  1. Not sure it is about GDP. It may be some sort of historical inertia, some alternate stable state: countries that thoroughly exterminated top predators – and that was far easier in flatter lands with heavy snowfall – cannot simply relax and allow them back; they got ” too civilised” (throw in most Europe).

    Perhaps the best hope would be a Romania free of the hatred found in those countries that lost the animals, and replaced them with folklore.

    Nice post!

  2. Hola – thanks for your kind comments!

    I see the problem of GDP from an other corner: when the damage is measured in money, people are more angry when bears and large carnivores make damages, while when the damage is not measured in money, they seem to be ok. It is my hypothesis, maybe somebody will test it sometimes – I am sure it is true.

    Higher the DGP per country, more attached people are to money (i.e. they tend to measure everything in money: time, damages made by predators, sex, marriage, friendship and everything). Money change people very much. When I had a 200 euro salary in Romania I rarely counted my money and was very generous when inviting friends for a beer. Now I have 10 times more money (in Germany) and I am still generous but tend to count more the (stupid) cents – and I am not alone. And I realize: if this is a societal problem, then we are in big trouble. This may be an other post.

    To come back: wolves and bears will drop in RO too when human welfare, with everything it represents, will be more related to/dependent from money. Then stakeholder groups will be formed around the bear problem, and consensus will be made with participatory workshops. Each consensus will mean less bears and less wolves…Just life, nothing new.

    • Hi again Tibor.
      Your post came timely; this coming Monday, a PhD student I proudly co-advice will nail his thesis (Alberto Fernández). He is not the average graduate student, but a biologist with 30 years of mostly carnivore fieldwork on his back.

      He has seen wolfless ranges reoccupied, and a severely endangered bear population breathing a bit better. In the epilogue of the thesis, freed of the reins of standard papers, he interprets that there are two main reasons for those comebacks in a highly populated Spain: change in the use of the land in rural areas and, very important, much less intolerance towards bears and wolves.

      I can only hope that he is right, and that intolerance may be diverted from Romania with the same welfare that could otherwise build it.

  3. I read a little bit on a historical book about the agriculture of Transylvanian Saxons (central Romania) (Dorner Bela: the Agriculture of Transylvanian Saxons, published in 1910, containing an overview of previous documents). It seems that pwople were always angry on wolves and bears – apologizes for the above statement ‘…they seem to be ok’!. For example, in the 17th century people received money after every 7 wolves and 1 bear killed in Sighisoara (my hometown) area. In some villages pits were dug to trap bears which were then killed. A record says that the rabbit was so rare in those times that people refered them as ‘the rabbit’ (i.e. I saw the rabbit). People noticed at those times too the damages made by wolves on their sheep and on game animals. It is very much like the hunter in the BBC movie (link in the entry) who complained about damages caused by wolves. Still, with all these wolf and bear killings and huntings and the negative attitude toward these animals from historical times, we have enough large carnivores. Lets hope that the people`s attitude will change and the potential economic interest in the region in the future will not force these animals to live in well delineated reserves/isolates with high likelihood of inbreeding.

  4. Pingback: On the co-existence of people and large carnivores: good examples wanted | 4thenature'sake

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