In bear country Romania, cohabitation grows strenuous - EntornoInteligente /

Maria Lacatusu (center), 86, recalls the bear attack inside the barn in Cusma village on Oct 17. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP CUSMA, Romania – When Maria Lacatus’ son opened the barn door, it was already too late. “The bear had one of the pigs in its claws,” the sobbing 86-year-old says.

After losing a horse a few days later, Lacatus now agrees with many of her neighbors in the northern Romanian village of Cusma that hunting the protected species is the only answer.

The bear had fled through an opening it had made in some of the barn’s wooden planks, Lacatus says, unable to shake the vision of the animal she “almost bumped into”.

She lives with her son, daughter-in-law – both take whatever daily work they can find – and their seven children in a house protected by a wooden fence opening onto a muddy yard.

The pigs are a vital source of income.

Romania has Europe’s highest number of brown bears. They are a common sight in Cusma, which has a population about 600 and lies about eight hours by road from the capital Bucharest.

But residents say that the bears didn’t used to venture into farms to take animals. Around 15 cows and pigs have been killed by bears in the last two years, says deputy mayor Florin Griga.

In other parts of the country, humans have been attacked. In October alone, a bear killed a 47-year-old who was picking mushrooms and a 61-year-old died due to an attack while fishing.

Thirty-two people were attacked, two of them fatally, in 2017 and 2018, according to government data.

Authorities have suggested that communities erect electric fences and use specialized dogs to keep bears away.

But with very few exceptions, such as the central town of Baile Tusnad, the measures have not been carried out.

In response to calls from some in rural areas, senators voted in September to allow brown bears to be hunted over the next five years, citing a problem of overpopulation.

The controversial bill, which still needs approval by deputies, has mobilized several environmental associations into trying to get it blocked.

About 100,000 people have signed an online petition by the WWF-Romania asking MPs to reject the bill.

European Union member Romania also risks sanctions as the brown bear is among 1,200 species protected by the bloc’s habitats directive.

“Man has always intervened to maintain a balance. Stopping this intervention results in the bear population getting out of hand,” says senator Tanczos Barna, a supporter of the draft law.

But environmentalists say the government doesn’t even come close to knowing the actual number.

“The methodology used by the authorities has not changed over the last few decades,” said Viorel Popescu, assistant biology professor at Ohio University in the United States, who wrote a study on the overestimation of Romania’s bear population.

“It consists of counting tracks on snow or mud.”

Agence France – Presse



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