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Live with them or follow them  Facing the bears, the Romanians are divided

Live with them or follow them Facing the bears, the Romanians are divided

Covasna nods on his front paws, the bear points his muzzle on the road, looking for offerings from tourists. In Romania, female farmers are increasingly venturing out of the forests, sparking fear and debate.

In response to the increase in attacks and interactions, hunting quotas were increased to 220 this year, compared to 140 previously. Voices are rising for the culling of more specimens of this species, which is protected under a European directive.

On their way to the volcanic Lake St. Anne in Transylvania, stunned visitors immortalize the moment without realizing they are making the problem worse.

“It’s extraordinary, simply unbelievable!”: Mike, a 72-year-old Israeli who did not want to give his name, is full of superlatives. “He seems relaxed,” he smiles, looking at the seven- to eight-year-old boy who has just enjoyed the sandwich. Thrown by the car driver.

In this country, which is home to the largest bear population in Europe (except Russia) with a bear population of about 8,000, according to an estimate by the Ministry of the Environment, it is not uncommon to encounter one along the way.

Aside from visitors’ enthusiasm, locals are worried about this new appearance.

“Lives in danger”

Here it is not the wolf that worries the shepherds, but rather these majestic mammals. Tibor Fekete, wearing a khaki jacket and feeling resigned, says he sees more every year and fears for his 70 cows, on a summer pasture near the village of Lazarsti: three of them died from attacks in 2023.

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“Bears cause damage and put our lives in danger,” confirms the 40-year-old man, ready to pounce, surrounded by six dogs that are “expensive to keep.”

He will not procrastinate: in his view, we should simply kill them, a view that many in the region seem to share, according to the testimonies collected.

30 kilometers away, the town of Mercuria Sioc discovered a bear in a schoolyard one morning in September.

The mayor immediately sent an intervention team to remove him from the tree he had climbed. He did not hesitate between the options available to him: the intruder was eliminated in order to protect the 1,700 students, says Attila Korodi.

“Imagine if someone was injured… who would bear responsibility? », justifies the elected official who claims to have had to chase several plantings in recent months.

“Not romantic at all”

“Europe sees Romania as a haven, or an open-air museum,” says the former environment minister, lamenting the lack of aid from Brussels.

“It’s romantic, but everyday life with bears is not romantic at all.”

A total of 14 people were killed and 158 injured in attacks between 2016 and 2021, according to the latest available figures.

If commercial hunting has been banned since 2016 in Romania, and shooting is limited to sworn clients, parliamentarians have introduced a bill to allow the slaughter of nearly 500 bears.

Behind this initiative, Barna Tankzos, who until recently was in charge of the file in the government, envisages a scenario of bears roaming the streets of the capital, Bucharest, or “bathing in the Danube Delta.”

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An unacceptable situation for animal advocates, who fear the return of “trophy” lovers.

Fences and trash are out of reach

In the small tourist town of Baile Tusnad, WWF and NGOs have come up with other solutions.

Trash cans that bears can’t get to, 400 electric fences installed, a mobile app offering advice… the recipe seems to be working. From 50 damage complaints in 2021, we went to zero.

“Bears won’t disappear overnight, but if they don’t feel welcome, they won’t stay in the city,” explains biologist Istvan Emkes, involved in the initiative.

This native of the region denounces the attitude of Romanian and foreign visitors alike, many of whom feed the animals illegally, only attracting them outside their natural habitat. Other reasons include poor waste management and lack of support.

On the streets, Lacey, a 47-year-old resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was reassured by the measures. “Anyone who says they’re not afraid of bears is either a liar or an idiot!” “, initiate.

At the request of his wife, who was excited to see him travel abroad for work, he installed an electric fence around his house a few years ago.

“We are used to living together. This is the only way possible.”