About Bear Conservation, hunting and EU laws in Croatia

_MG_9140Bear habitat in Slovenia

Last July a paper entitled “The potential impacts of changes in bear hunting policy for hunting organisations in Croatia” was published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research which can be donwloaded here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10344-013-0754-3#page-1

The autors fear that EU rules (Croatia joined the EU last 1th July) could cause problems for its bear population as hunting is an important income for local hunting organizations and due to it local people have a positive perception towards bears. They argue that a system involving hunting ensures local support for bears in Croatia, which is vital in ensuring the animals’ long-term survival.

“There is strong evidence that Croatia’s current system is beneficial for both local people and the bear population, and changing it could result in more tension between people and bears,” said Professor Milner-Gulland. “We are not implying that trophy hunting is an appropriate management option for all brown bear populations. However, not every country is the same, and there needs to be regional variation in conservation policies so that people are able to manage their own populations of high priority species successfully.”

I must said that I never been in Croatia, but I have been in Slovenia, the neighbouring country and doing fieldwork with biologists who work for large carnivores conservation. As I could not agree with the paper conclusions, I decided to ask my slovenian conservation biologists about it. This is the answer I had:

“In my opinion is not very realistic, because they did calculations based on the assumption, that there will be no income from hunting after they join EU. This is of course untrue, as they are still selling trophy hunting, like they did before (and as is done also in Slovenia, even though we are in EU for many years).

Actually bear hunting increased a lot in Croatia – last year for 75% and for this year the plan is even higher. But probably the biggest problem there is that there is practically no regulation what kind of bear can be shot, so large proportion of bears killed are large males (because they make bigger trophy and therefore more money from hunting guests).

This is in contrast with Slovenia, where 90% of the bears have to be <150 kg (however Slovenia is shooting higher proportion of the population – about 20% per year). There are several studies indicating that shooting large males has stronger effects on the population, because killing of big male increases infanticide.”

_MG_0002Free-ranging cub bears in Slovenia

The paper argues that people in Slovenia do have a bad perception towards bears because they are protected by law which it is not only false but it is actually an argument against bear shooting as a highest percentage of the bear population is been shot every year in Slovenia and it seems that it is not helping to improve bear perception.

Kaczensky et al. (2000) studied bear percepction in Slovenia and found out that only 6% of hunters and locals hold negative attitudes towards bears. However, this group seems to express their attitude louder and more frequently than the majority of people that hold a positive attitude. Furthermore, a small group of people with a negative attitude and having the skill and tools to remove a controversial species may well be able to stop recovery, as has been the case with wolves in Michigan (Hook and Robinson, 1982).

Because large carnivores play a role in maintening biodiversity, stability and integrity of a variety of ecosystems, conserving these species in their interacting context is a challenge at worldwide scale.  Such a role in ecosystem functionning should be taken in account in management plans.

Hunting larges carnivores reduces numbers that are low per se, plus can induce behavioral responses, such as alteration of habitat use and disruption of social systems, with potential demographic consequences (e.g hunting can promote infanticide in large carnivores like bears (Swenson et. al. 1997). Such negative effects can occur and can have additive effects, destabilizing populations dynamics even when the overall harvest is not demographically regarded as excessively high, i.e. when it is still considered sustanaible. Indeed, large carnivores are mere than numbers.

Otherwise, in some areas in Croatia where bears are managed as game species, bears are attracted to bait stations often fed with anthropogenic-related food . This may create food-or human -habituated bears ; thus the action plan for the conservation of bears in Europe asked to abandon artificial feeding.

Furthermore, hunting bears can maybe improve the perception from local hunters but there is other part of the population who largely desaproves  it and there are ethical and moral reasons against  trophy hunting.

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