Česká verze

Romania bans trophy hunting of bears, wolves and wildcats

20.10.2016, Carnivores.cz

Supporters of large carnivores have a reason to celebrate. Romanian government announced on the 4th October that it will no longer allow hunting of large carnivores for “trophies”. According to experts, trophy hunting represents one of the major threats to European significant populations of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wildcats in Romania.

Photo: Camera trap of Vlado TrulikRomania is known as the top European hunting destination. Until now, it has been the only place within the EU where it was possible to legally – for a fee of up to €10,000 – kill some of the most protected carnivores such as brown bear, wolf, lynx or elusive wildcat. The Romanian hunting industry relied on the provision of the EU Habitats Directive which allows for the killing of specific animals if shown to have attacked a person or damaged private property. Using their own very loose interpretation of the European law, Romanian authorities issued hunting permits that led to the killing of hundreds of carnivores each year. As recently as this September, the Romania Ministry of Environment announced the largest hunting quota yet for the upcoming hunting season: 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 wildcats. All the more surprising was the announced scrapping of these quotas.

Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, the environment minister, commented the decision for the Guardian: “Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway. The damages [clause in the habitats directive] acted as a cover for trophy hunting.” The ban is “simply putting things back on the right track, as the habitats directive originally intended.”

The minister also talked of the flawed methodology used currently to obtain official data on large carnivore populations and expected damages which form the basis for government-issued hunting quotas. The methods have been widely criticized by experts. According to the official figures, there are more than 6,000 bears in Romania but based on some recent studies the researchers claim this is not possible based on local biological traits and ecological conditions.

Biased census of large carnivores

Currently, the government obtains the estimated numbers for the populations of large carnivores from hunting associations, each of them responsible for monitoring of a small area of land; bears, wolves and lynx, on the other hand, are the animals prone to wandering across large territories. Inevitably, individual animals are often counted multiple times. Second information that the hunting associations submit to the government concerns the number of animals which they believe to be likely to cause damages – based on these data, the government issues hunting quotas for each species. These quotas are then divided between hunting companies and sold as hunting rights. Under the existing system, the incentive to overestimate the carnivores’ numbers and potential damages is significant. According to the study conducted by the researchers from the University of Bucharest, the numbers for bear populations seem particularly unrealistic, with bears fetching the highest price from hunters. If the official data were to be trusted, the bear population in certain parts of central and eastern Romania would be growing four times faster than anywhere else in the world, the study reveals.

Trophy hunting is a lucrative sector of the Romanian economy, benefiting not just the hunting associations who sell the hunting rights but also the companies providing services to wealthy hunters. Advocates of commercial hunting like to claim it helps the conservation by giving people a strong financial reason to protect their environment. Many experts, however, dispute this idea (only a small number of local people benefit from the trophy hunting, the management goal is to ensure high numbers of hunted animals rather than allow a healthy balance in the ecosystem). As an alternative, the ecotourism projects are being developed in Romania, which may bring a long-term sustainable profit to local communities while ensuring the survival of endangered species. Romania is an extraordinary country with an enormous potential in this respect.

“The Carpathian mountains are home to more biodiversity than anywhere else in Europe, but for too long they have been ruthlessly exploited for forestry and hunting. Let’s hope the government’s decision is a sign of things to come,” commented for the Guardian Gabriel Paun, an activist and conservationist behind a petition that collected 11,000 signatures in the weeks before the hunting ban.

Change of direction requires adequate measures and policies

Another popular pro-hunting argument is that the regulated hunting helps prevent poaching. Yet, such claims do not seem to be based on any sound scientific data. In fact, the latest research suggests exactly the opposite. In any case, if the hunting ban is to be successful, it must be accompanied by actions targeted at preventing poaching. These actions must also focus on solving real problems which may occur when humans and large carnivores share the same landscape.

Photo: Vlado Trulik

Conservationists admit that conflicts between carnivores and humans may arise. The crucial part of conservation efforts is to convince the rural populations that hunting is not the answer. Until now, Romania has tried to minimize potential conflicts by reducing the numbers of large carnivores, but such measures do not automatically result in fewer damages or increased tolerance for predators.

Hunting may actually increase the problem. Csaba Domokos, a Romanian bear expert, explained for the Guardian that the bears most sought after by the hunters are the largest “alpha” males – it is these large bears, however, who keep populations in check. Young bear males, on the other hand, are more prone to come near inhabited places in search of food, thus causing most of the problems.

The Romanian government has now decided to take management into its own hands. It has created a new state agency, Wildlife Emergency Service – SUAS, that will assess any reports of damages by large carnivores and deal with the culprit animal directly.

Environmental minister Cristiana Pasca-Palmer has also revealed on her Facebook profile the plan to establish a working group of experts, which will include wildlife experts, civil society representatives, hunters and farmers, and the Romanian Academy. One of the principal tasks of the new group will be to help find the best ways to estimate large carnivore populations in Romania. They may also offer suggestions for management plans of endangered animals.

Unexpected move of the Romanian government signals a fundamental change in the approach towards large carnivores in the country which is one of their most significant centres in Europe. The real impact on the Carpathian populations of wolves, bears, lynx and wildcats will largely depend on the government’s ability to address local people’s fears and reduce any potential conflicts.



The Guardian, Romania bans trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats

WWF, Getting the numbers right on brown bears in Romania

Mongabay, Romania announces ban on trophy hunting of bears, wolves and wildcats


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