Conservation Carpathia identified bears over an area of 1,200 square kilometres (120,000 ha) in the Făgăraș Mountains and its surroundings, in the first genetic study in Romania. Quantitative assessment of the bear population with modern methods such as genetics is the first step in responsible management of bears in our country.
We have completed the first genetic study to evaluate the number of bears in the east of the Făgăraș, Piatra Craiului, Iezer-Păpușa and Leaota Mountains. 1,426 DNA samples were collected with a 63% rate of successful laboratory identification. 283 bears, 137 females and 146 males were identified, and by statistical modelling the population density was estimated at 17-18 bears/100 square km (10,000 ha).
“The genetic method of monitoring wildlife populations is one of the most relevant and accurate methods that estimates the number of individuals over a given area and can analyse population dynamics in time and space,” said Ruben Iosif, wildlife specialist at the Foundation Conservation Carpathia. “Unlike the classical method which is based on uncertain measurement of traces or direct observations, genetics provides a clear picture of individuals by eliminating the possibility of counting a specimen several times throughout different wildlife management concessions. Basically, non-invasive DNA, faecal or hair samples are collected, which are analysed in specialist laboratories. Such objective studies are important steps in the process of monitoring the bear population. Scientific data must underpin our management decisions, both to ensure that we do not lose this species and to understand conflicts and strengthen coexistence with humans,” continued Ruben Iosif.
Stages of the genetic study
In such research, the study area is delimited – it must be large enough to be relevant for large bear movements, which can usually range across 800-1000 square km.
The second step is the sampling period. This period must be long enough so that there is enough time to collect samples, but at the same time short enough so that there is assurance that the population is demographically closed (few specimens die, individuals rarely leave the area study during research and no new individuals are born during the study). For the study, we worked for about three months, in the autumnal August-November period, both in 2017 and in 2018.
700-750 samples were collected per each monitoring session from all the valleys and the main edges of the study area. The DNA samples were analysed in a laboratory of the University of Ljubljana where DNA sequencing identified the genetic fingerprint of each individual. Thus, the number of observed bears was obtained, and depending on the recapture rate of the DNA, the total size of the studied population was estimated.
This study was carried out with financial support from the OAK Foundation and from the European Commission through the Large Infrastructure Operational Program – Biodiversity Axis.
Read the entire bear study here.
Replicating this study after five years will allow us to understand the population trend in order to establish long-term policies to protect this species and to reduce conflicts with humans. We use this scientific data to manage human-bear conflicts over the wildlife management concessions we manage. For example, we collect evidence from bear attacks in households and identify problem bears within the known population so that we know the magnitude of the problem before taking action.
The study provides recommendations for improving the method of genetic monitoring applicable to the Carpathian Mountains, a model that can be replicated nationally to estimate the number of bears and to identify the best techniques for managing human wildlife conflicts.
Prevention, the best solution for human-bear conflicts
We coordinate, through partner entities, the administration of four wildlife management concessions using modern methods for the conservation of the species in the Făgăraș Mountains, but also for the benefit of local communities. The basic principles of the management are: decision-making on scientific grounds and maximum priority for the prevention of wild human-animal conflicts. To this end, trophy hunting has been replaced by animal monitoring and interventions against problematic animals.
“Prevention is the most important action. And here we are talking about a complex system of causes and measures to be applied, among which we mention the urgent need to stop the degradation or destruction of natural areas where bears live, and respect for their natural resources is mandatory,” said Mihai Zotta, director of conservation.
“There is also a need for more intense actions for waste management near forests and urban areas, whether we are talking about households in the localities, or we are talking about the roadsides where bears come to be fed by tourists. Particular attention must be paid to waste of animal origin, common in households and small farms as a result of zootechnical activities, waste for which there are no viable solutions for incineration. And last but not least, the abandoned lands in the surroundings or even in the built-up areas of the villages become shelters for wild animals and the orchards where the fruits are no longer harvested or harvested too late are irresistible attractions for bears and wild boar. Under these conditions, in addition to the use of electric fences, socio-economic measures are needed to reduce the degree of abandonment of communities by young people,” continued Mihai Zotta.
We and our partner entities are working to prevent the presence of bears in the communities. Thus, in the last two years, 31 electric fences were installed free of charge, and the main result was the lack of incidents on these premises. The two rapid intervention teams are available 24/24, 7/7. Since 2019, they have participated in 61 actions to drive bears away from farms. Also, 38 shepherd dogs were offered free of charge to the shepherds from the Făgăraș Mountains area and a private farm was created to offer cows and sheep in exchange for the damages caused by carnivores.
However, in the last two years, the intervention teams had to capture and relocate a bear and eliminate three bears that endangered people’s lives and caused great damage to livestock.
About the LIFE Carpathia project
The project is implemented within the project ‘Creation of a Wilderness Reserve in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, Romania’. The main purpose of the project is the restoration of the degraded habitats and the application of conservation measures over an area large enough to allow natural processes to take place, to benefit biodiversity and local communities.
Financial support from: The European Commission through the LIFE Nature programme (www.ec.europa.eu) and the Arcadia Foundation through the ELP program (Endangered Landscapes Programme, www.endangeredlandscapes.org).
The content of this material does not necessarily represent the official position of the European Union.