Posted on 09 November 2007
A new study provides the most comprehensive examination of brown bears in Slovakia, taking a step back from an ongoing debate regarding bear numbers and hunting permits to examine some of the greater issues of bear conservation in the country.
Bratislava, Slovakia – A new study provides the most comprehensive examination of brown bears in Slovakia, taking a step back from an ongoing debate regarding bear numbers and hunting permits to examine some of the greater issues of bear conservation in the country.
Authored by Robin Rigg of the Slovak Wildlife Society and Michal Adamec of the the Slovak State Nature Conservancy — with support from the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme and WWF-Denmark — the study not only examines current management regimes but also reviews the state of existing knowledge, drawing on existing published information as well as significant unpublished data from the State Nature Conservancy.
Back from the brink of extinction
The brown bear was nearly hunted to extinction in Slovakia in the 1930s. Populations have recovered since then thanks to protection and closely regulated hunting. Today, the Slovak bear population is relatively healthy, consisting of 800 individuals — a significant part of the total European population of about 10,000 bears, of which some 6,000 are found in Romania.
The bear population in Slovakia is now large enough, and hunting pressure low enough, for it to be in no short-term danger of extinction. However, there are deeply divided opinions on how it should be managed.
Much of the debate has focused on how many bears there are and to what extent they can or should be hunted. From a conservation perspective, however, there are issues of more pressing concern. Fragmentation, degradation and loss of habitat, especially by the continued development of mountain areas and the construction of highways, could lead to greater problems for bears in some parts of Slovakia in the not too distant future.
Hunters — joined most recently by the director of the State Nature Conservancy — have long argued for significantly reducing bear numbers in order to limit bear-human conflicts.
The study reveals that damage levels in recent years have in fact been much lower than in the past when the bear population was smaller and there were fewer restrictions to hunting. There is also evidence to suggest that attacks on humans are less frequent now than in the 1980s.
Damage to agriculture from bears (e.g. loss of livestock and damage to bee hives) is negligible on a national scale — not more than €28,000 per year — but can be of local significance. A compensation system for losses of livestock and other forms of damage has been in place since the early 1960s.
There are cases of attacks on people every year, some resulting in severe injury, but there have been no recent deaths. Almost all attacks are either defensive or by food-conditioned bears.
The authors suggest that much more use could be made of preventive measures, including electric fences and bear-proof containers, to limit damage from bears. Education and awareness raising material, such as on how to behave in a conflict situation, is also greatly needed.
This first comprehensive review of existing knowledge regarding Slovak bears also reveals how little we know about these magnificent creatures, pointing out numerous gaps in our knowledge on population dynamics and behaviour.
WIth their study, Rigg and Adamec have made a very significant first step in addressing these gaps and addressing deeper issues of bear conservation in Slovakia.
Rigg R. and Adamec M.(2007), Status, ecology and management of the brown bear (Ursos arctos) in Slovakia. Slovak Wildlife Society
, Liptovsky Hradok. 128 pp.
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