The bear and the human, a complicated relationship

The bear is at the top of the food chain, has no natural enemies and is omnivorous. The human has exactly the same characteristics, and these similarities are the sources of the conflict between bear and human, with the amendment that, through the prism of differences, the causes of the complicated relationship are the responsibility of the human.

Ursul brun popula întreaga Europă, însă azi a dispărut din majoritatea regiunilor. Câteva din cauzele dispariției: creșterea populației umane, fragmentarea habitatelor, dezvoltarea agriculturii, vânătoarea excesivă.
The brown bear used to populate the whole Europe, but today it has disappeared from most regions. Some of the causes of extinction: human population growth, habitat fragmentation, agricultural development, excessive hunting.

The rules of good coexistence

Never give food to begging bears! Your kindness drives them away from the forest, and makes them addicted! A human-fed bear is a dead bear, because it loses the ability to feed itself, may become aggressive, and will eventually be shot or, at best, relocated to unknown territory.

It’s illegal and you risk hefty fines. Although rarely implemented, there is a law that prohibits feeding wild animals, and fines can reach 10.000 lei.

The independent bear is afraid of the human and avoids meeting him and trespassing on his territory. But the beggar bear, accustomed to easily obtained food, loses the ability to feed alone in the forest and will look for easy sources in the vicinity of roads and inhabited areas. The human-dependent bear is no longer afraid of him, and when it is driven away from the vicinity of inhabited areas it does not get scared, it can become aggressive and attack, especially if it is hungry.

Bucegi, Valea Cerbului. Comportamentul deviat al ursoaicei cu pui este efectul direct al faptului că primește constant mâncare sau o poate găsi ușor în tomberonul de gunoi. Puii sunt condamnați. Nu vor învăța să-și procure singuri hrană. 
Bucegi, Valea Cerbului. The deviant behavior of the baby bear is the direct effect of the fact that it constantly receives food or can easily find it in the garbage can. The bear cubs are condemned. They will not learn to procure food for themselves.

It is the responsibility of the owners of guesthouses and cabins in the areas bordering the bears’ range to protect the places where household garbage is stored. And in this case there is the risk of fines, according to the legislation in force, if the waste containers are not insured.

Compliance with the rules regarding the collection and management of animal carcasses, including those following hunting, garbage storage facilities, the mandatory wearing of pepper spray by those who may be put in vulnerable situations are other solutions that will help to avoid human and bear conflict.

The bear is not a domestic animal! Do not approach the bear, even if it is apparently harmless. Can have unpredictable reactions generated by instincts.

Urs cerșetor în zona lacului Sfânta Ana.
Beggar bear in the Sfanta Ana Lake area.

It is necessary for the safety of domestic animals, following the rules of safe grazing, avoiding wooded areas and bordering and places where grazing is prohibited. Installing electric fences where inhabited areas border traditional bear territories is a solution with spectacular results. Electric fencing protects beehives, poultry and cattle.

The evidence is a pilot project implemented in 2021 at the sheepfolds in Vrancea county that reduced shepherds’ losses to almost zero. In the neighboring county, Harghita, where the dens and vulnerable areas were not protected, bear attacks continued, being 44 times higher in the same period, namely the months of May-September, when bears are very active. The situation was identical in 2022. Only three minor incidents in Vrancea, while in Harghita there were over 150. Starting from April 2023, money is allocated from the funds of the Ministry of the Environment for the installation of electric fences. Those interested just have to ask them and install the electric fences (four-wire ones are ideal).

Ursul brun (Ursus arctos) este cel mai mare reprezentant al prădătorilor europeni. 
The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is the largest representative of European predators.

The bear, the symbol of the Carpathians

The brown bear is a veritable treasure of the Carpathian fauna. Its presence proves a natural balance in Romania’s forests and is the sign of a viable and healthy ecosystem.

There are natural mechanisms that keep the bear population at an optimal level, and the belief that their numbers are too high is false. The genetic census of bears in Făgăraș, for example, one of the areas considered to have too many bears, showed that the number of those in the east of Făgăraș Mountains, Piatra Craiului, Iezer-Păpușa and Leaota Mountains is 283 bears, 137 females and 146 males, and through statistical modeling the population density was estimated at 17-18 bears/100 square km. The count of bears, as it is officially done, at the level of hunting grounds or national park, is not correct, because frequently the same specimen was recorded several times, on neighboring hunting grounds.

La naștere puii de urs au în jur de jumătate de kilogram, dar cresc foarte repede, datorită laptelui hrănitor al ursoaicei și părăsesc bârlogul în aprilie-mai. 
At birth, bear cubs weigh around half a kilogram, but they grow very quickly, thanks to the mother’s nourishing milk, and leave the den in April-May.

It should also be mentioned the recent data (April 2023) of the general bear census, based on biological samples and genetic analyses, which show that the number of brown bear specimens is between 7.536 and 8.093, with an average density of 11 specimens per 100 of square kilometers, forested hill and mountain areas. The preferred habitat is the Carpathian Bend followed by the Făgăraș massif. The previous study, from 2016, estimated the bear population between 5.900 and 6.500 specimens at the national level. The estimated number of bears before 1989 in Romania was somewhere around 10.000 specimens.  

Probabil una dintre cele mai dramatice instantanee cu un urs matur cerșetor. Exemplarul și-a dezvoltat un comportament anormal, care îi asigură accesul facil la hrană. 
Probably one of the most dramatic snapshots of a mature begging bear. The specimen has developed an abnormal behavior that ensures easy access to food.

Myths about roadside bears

The presence of bears on the side of mountain roads, the news about bears arriving in different localities and the damage they sometimes do to households in the areas bordering their range, are common.

The fact that they are so visible led to the idea that they do not have enough food in the forest and that hunger causes them to leave their habitat, but also that the number of Carpathian bears is very high. These conclusions are not entirely true being a mixture of myth and truth that is capable of fueling wrong behavior on the part of humans with dangerous effects for both man and bear.

Urșii tineri sunt cei mai vulnerabili, pe de o parte pentru că fiind mai mici se bucură de multă atenție din partea turiștilor, pe de alta pentru că s-au adaptat la acest stil de viață ceea ce-i face incapabili să supraviețuiască în mediul lor natural.
Young bears are the most vulnerable, on the one hand because being smaller they enjoy a lot of attention from tourists, on the other hand because they have adapted to this lifestyle which makes them unable to survive in their environment natural.

The bear has food in the forest, but he becomes dependent on the place where he can find it more easily.

The bear is omnivorous, and its food varies according to the season. In the forest the bear can travel relatively long distances to feed. It is not very wrong to say that the bear needs to “work”, for the daily sacrament. The bear will scavenge for ant nests and other insects, stretch and climb for wasp hives and wild bees, for budding branches or berries – which he will meticulously pick, berry by berry – or he will have to hunt small wild animals or sometimes to scavenge for acorns.

Most of the food intake consists of vegetables, mushrooms, berries and succulent roots. But the bear will not refuse to devour the carcass of an animal, sometimes he can eat the remains of herbivores hunted by a wolf or lynx, and he can easily catch rodents, including rabbits, and he gladly eats any kind of eggs.  

It is therefore very important to know that the bear does not need the food he can receive or take from people. The organism and the adaptation to the environment, plus the food supply in the forest is sufficient for him.

In areas frequented by humans, the bear becomes dependent on the food he obtains without effort. Each time he receives food from humans, the “begging” behavior will increase, and eventually he will become dominant. Another nefarious element that leads to the loss of autonomy is the nature of the food he receives. The bear should not eat bread, biscuits, puffs, crisps or vegetable scraps, cooked meat or sweets. Their good taste contributes greatly to the formation of new habits, and the bear will move away from the forest and the normal lifestyle and choose to live among people, which will lead to inevitable conflicts.

The human does major harm to the bear he lures with food either to be immortalized in an “event” picture for social media, or is knowingly “maintained” by lodge owners who tolerate the bear’s access to food scraps, as to be an additional attraction for tourists. It is no coincidence that the presence of beggar bears is a common fact in tourist areas such as the Transfăgărășan Highway, Valea Prahova, but also in the counties of Vrancea, Neamț and Suceava, to mention only the most frequent media memorials for events where the Carpathian bear is the main character.

Urs cerșetor pe marginea Transfăgărășanului. Subnutrit și dependent de hrana pe care o primește de la oameni. 
Beggar bear on the side of the Transfăgărășan Highway. Malnourished and dependent on human food.

The bear is afraid of humans, but a change in his eating style can make him change his behavior and become aggressive 

The bear is a solitary animal that avoids contact with humans. His highly developed sense of smell allows him to identify human presence and he will instinctively move away. This is the normal behavior of the independent bear. In response, the bear that has discovered that around human food tastes good and can be easily obtained, will seek his presence.

Acquainting the bear with the human- who can provide him food – alleviates his fear instinct. A bear that does not fear humans is potentially dangerous, may attack, and most importantly, will always return to the vicinity of inhabited areas and humans in search of food. The end of such situations is always tragic and results in human casualties, after which the bear will be shot or, if measures are taken before irreparable situations occur, it will be relocated.

90% of human victimization events follow this pattern, and it is always a matter of time before a bear fed by the side of the road attacks. Moreover, in all the situations in which humans or household animals were attacked, it was only about bears that received food from humans or that had access to food scraps.

In the past two years, centralized data shows that 25 bears were shot after causing human casualties, 66 were relocated after causing damage and repeatedly returning to inhabited areas. The figures do not include situations where villagers killed bears or bear cubs. The same official data from the Ministry of the Environment shows that between 2016 and 2021, 14 people were killed by bears, 158 were injured and there were 154 bear incidents resulting in damage.

În egală măsură avantaj și dezavantaj alimentația omnivoră îi dă voie să digere orice fel de hrană și i-a oferit o șansă de supraviețuire în plus, dar aceasta îl face să aleagă și hrana care-i este cea mai la-ndemână.
Equally advantage and disadvantage omnivorous nutrition allows him to digest any kind of food and gave him an extra chance of survival, but it also makes him choose the food that is closest to him.

The bear’s natural habitat has not been reduced

Another myth that works as an explanation to justify the presence of bears on the side of the road, but also the fact that they receive and seek food from humans, is that the natural habitat has decreased and the food that the bear has access to is insufficient. The bear is looking for food and will return to the place where he can find it most easily. When he gets (we punctuate, at the risk of repeating the importance of the good taste of the food he gets from humans or garbage) food without effort, he will become addicted to it.

The reality – and the data of independent organisms come to confirm the official ones – is that the habitat of the Carpathian brown bear has improved, some areas have been regenerated, and the food available for them naturally in the forests of the hill and mountain areas is sufficient. One proof is the actual increase in bear populations. Similarly, the number of specimens of other large predators such as wolf, lynx and fox increased, as did the number of herbivores (pigs, deer, black goats). This phenomenon is not accidental, but a positive, necessary result of the protective policies undertaken by Romania in the case of the fauna of the Carpathians and beyond.

One of the ways that has proven effective in removing bears from populated areas has been based on the fact that they can be very easily induced to stay or return to places where they find food. At such feeding points they received fruit, corn or other fodder. The method is used occasionally, especially in reserves, where the density of specimens is higher and implicitly the available natural food reserve could sometimes be insufficient.

Perfect adaptat pentru mediul în care trăiește, ursul are nevoie de respectul oamenilor
Perfectly adapted to the environment in which he lives, the bear needs the respect of people

An exceptional mammal

The bear is an impressed mammal. The musculature is very strong and allows him to run faster than a horse, he can climb like a cat, he can use his front limbs with skill, he rises effortlessly on his hind legs. Moreover, he has an exceptional ability to adapt, but also through a completely remarkable sensory one.

Sight, hearing and smell are excellent. He hears the human voice from 300 meters away and can still smell it 40 hours after it has passed. The bear’s sense of smell is his vital secret weapon for defense and attack, and the way he can detect food sources. And he knows exactly what he will eat, just by smell.

An American proverb perfectly describes this superior olfactory ability and says: “A pine needle fell in the forest. The eagle saw it fall. The deer heard it. The bear smelled it.”

Sursa foto: arhive personale

Surse: Ministerul Mediului Apelor și Pădurilor/