New paper: Human-carnivore coexistence in a traditional rural landscape

Ine Dorresteijn, Jan Hanspach, Attila Kecskés, Hana Latková, Zsófia Mezey, Szilárd Sugár, Henrik von Wehrden, Joern Fischer. Landscape ecology

Many carnivore populations persist outside national parks and facilitating coexistence between humans and carnivores is a socially desired goal and a major conservation challenge. Nevertheless, despite increased conservation efforts many carnivore populations continue to decline, often due to conflicts with humans. Thus, a key to successful carnivore conservation is to better understand human-carnivore coexistence dynamics. To this end, a useful approach could be to learn from landscapes in which humans and carnivores have coexisted for long periods of time.

In Eastern Europe, large carnivores and humans have co-inhabited multiple-use landscapes for centuries. This is in stark contrast with Western Europe where hunting has extirpated carnivores from most of their former range. Furthermore, the recent comeback of carnivores in Western Europe faces strong opposition from local people. To gain a better understanding on human-carnivore coexistence, we aimed to assess how humans and bears coexist in southern Transylvania, Romania. Romania sustains a large stable population of the brown bear, most of which live in the Carpathian mountains. However, they also occur in the foothills which harbor hundreds of villages characterized by semi-subsistence agriculture.

We used a two-pronged approach combining ecological and social data to study coexistence between humans and the brown bear in Transylvania. We first surveyed 550 km of walking transects for bear signs (proportion of destroyed anthills) to assess spatial patterns of bear activity. Second, we used questionnaires to examine human-bear conflicts in the region and related it to the spatial distribution of bear activity.

We found that humans and bears coexist relatively peacefully despite occasional conflicts. Coexistence appeared to be facilitated by (1) the availability of large forest blocks that are connected to the source population of bears in the Carpathian Mountains; (2) the use of traditional livestock management to minimize damage from bears; and (3) some tolerance among shepherds to occasional conflict with bears. In contrast, coexistence was not facilitated by avoidance of human settlements by bears and financial incentives.

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Predicted bear activity in the study area (left) and attitudes towards bears of shepherds experiencing different rates of livestock attacks by bears (right).

We show that human-bear coexistence is possible even without direct financial incentives. Continuous coexistence with large carnivores appears to foster the development of management tools and attitudes that effectively reduce conflicts. Nevertheless, this shared history of relationships between humans and bears has been eroded in many regions worldwide. Thus, a key challenge for settings with a broken history of human-carnivore co-occurrence is to reinstate both practices and attitudes that facilitate coexistence.
The full paper can be downloaded here.

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5 thoughts on “New paper: Human-carnivore coexistence in a traditional rural landscape

  1. Yes indeed, the bears are omnivorous. In our study area they eat very little meat, about 15% of their diet. Conflicts related to bears are related not only to sheep but also to damage to crops, orchards, and beehives

    • With so much other damage, why not emphasize the omnivore aspect and refer to the bears as such? I’m not convinced the carnivore vs omnivore distinction is trivial. Perhaps in Romania… but in other human dominated landscapes the specialization of the human component – orchardists vs shepherds (or within the livestock husbandry industry even more specialization between dairy and beef) – the specialization leads to humans with different interests. Wolves and mountain lions, as true carnivores preying on livestock will not catch the imagination of horticulturalists as quickly as a brown bear.

  2. Dear Clem,
    Thanks for the comment. In the paper we also discuss the other aspects of human-bear conflicts. We asked local people about their conflicts with bears and orchards, beehives and crops. We focused more on the conflicts with livestock in this paper, because we only had in depth interviews with shepherds. I think in our study region interests between people are not yet that different as you describe. Most people are semi-subsitence farmers and most people have some crops, fruit trees and animals, and thus have similar interests. For both the local people as well as for the sheep-owners bears could potentially harm their income. I am currently analyzing human-bear coexistence in more depth using both qualitative and quantitative data, where both livestock predation as well as damage to orchards, crops, and beehives are discussed. However, generally the majority of people have very little conflicts with bears. But more information on attitudes towards bears and coexistence will follow in the near future.

  3. Pingback: NEW PAPER: Social factors mediating human–carnivore coexistence: Understanding thematic strands influencing coexistence in Central Romania | Ideas for Sustainability

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