Česká verze

On the track of Iwo – the wandering bear

24.5.2015, Carnivores.cz

Several times before, we have reported on some truly unbelievable journeys made by young male wolves in search of their new territories (for example, here and here). This time, together with the Polish and Slovak zoologists, we are following a five-year-old bear named Iwo who, over the course of just one week, travelled from the Tatra Mountains across entire Slovakia all the way to Hungary.  In mid-May, it looked like he might have got homesick and turned on the way back. Then, Iwo unexpectedly changed his direction to the northeast and, after more than a week, arrived at the Subcarpathian region. During the three and half weeks, he covered 373 kilometres! Iwo’s incredible achievement even motivated the Slovak Ministry of Environment to become interested in protecting the bear beyond the borders of Slovakia.

Iwo, the bear, with the telemetry tracking collar in the spring of 2014.

Iwo was fitted with the telemetry tracking collar a year ago in the Polish part of the Tatra Mountains by the zoologists from the Administration of the Tatra National Park (Park Narodowy Tatra) and the Krakow Institute of Nature Conservation (Instytut Ochrony przyrody PAN). Since then, the scientists were receiving information about bear’s current position every half an hour. This method of monitoring provides data on movement as well as spatial and dietary requirements of this elusive animal.

Last spring, Iwo made first of his long trips: 80 kilometres to the west and back to the Liptov region. The five-year-old male bear also appears to be an amazing climber. Many of us would not expect it from the big shaggy creature, but three times during the past year, Iwo went hiking at the altitudes of 2,200 to 2,400 metres above sea level (7,200 to 7,900 feet).

At the beginning of May, he set off again: this time, he headed south from the Poprad region. It is common for young males to leave their place of birth and travel wide, while females usually stay where they were born. Iwo travelled through the populated country mainly at night to avoid meeting people; in the unfamiliar landscape, he managed to find food and overcome numerous barriers such as rail corridors and roads. The most dangerous obstacle was the D1 motorway in the High Tatras which, luckily, he was able to cross using the special green bridge (ecoduct). On the 3rd of May, he crossed the southern Slovak border and headed to Hungary.

Source: Aggtelek National Park

Iwos journey south and back to the Polish border.

There are currently no bears permanently living in Hungary, although occasional reports come from the north of the country of both male and female bears’ presence. Naturalists from all three countries monitored with great excitement Iwo’s movements in northern Hungary hoping that his journey would progress safely. Despite the fact that the largest European carnivore is protected in Hungary, several cases of poaching were recorded in recent years right in the region where Iwo temporarily stayed. For this reason, the guards of the Aggtelek National Park also become involved in ensuring the bear’s safety, using camera traps to monitor deer and boar feeding places and communicating with the local hunters and authorities. Thanks to these precautions, Iwo spent more than a week in Hungary without any troubles, before setting on a return journey. He has not yet arrived back to his homeland as he eventually turned northeast towards the Polish border and the Bieszczady National Park.

During his odyssey, Iwo won many admirers in the media and on social networks. But he also attracted the interest from Slovak authorities. Although they usually complain about the “bear overpopulation”, according to the press releases, the Slovaks claim that the bear Iwo is theirs because he spent most of the year on the Slovak side of the Tatras. At the time when Iwo visited Hungary, the spokesman for the Ministry of Environment Maroš Stano even approached the Hungarian Ministry to defend the bear’s national interests: “I have already informed the Hungarian side that they have one of our bears and asked them to look after him in order to maintain good Slovak-Hungarian relations”.

Iwo’s wanderings provided the biologist with an interesting piece of knowledge: until now it has been assumed that the bear populations of the Eastern and Western Carpathians are separated; although the connecting area between the Tatras and the Bieszczady offers a suitable environment for the bears, previous observations of this species were rather sporadic and there was no evidence of breeding. If Iwo found his sweetheart in the Bieszczady, it could lead to a reconnection of the two bear populations.




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