A preliminary AVES Report on the need for protection of the Carpathian Brown Bear

As a result of excessive hunting and incompetent management of game stocks, the Brown Bear population in Romania shows a biologically unacceptable downward trend. If this trend continues, the complete or partial extinction of the species in Romania can be expected in the next decade. During the past 34 years the Brown Bear population in Romania, including the Harghita district, declined by 60% because of unlawful stock management by the National Forestry Administration and Romanian Hunting Association.

Because of this the AVES Foundation have begun a national campaign for the protection and survival of the Carpathian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos) in Romania: the initial conservation measures will consist of identification of the risk factors which are leading to this insupportable decline in the its population. To date reliable data is available only from the Harghita district, where specific monitoring studies have been carried out to estimate accurately population size. The area in question covers some 100,000 ha.; the results can be extrapolated for other areas in Romania where Brown Bear populations exist.

According to the 1988-89 official statistics, the total Brown Bear population in Romania consisted of 7,780 individuals; of which 1,185 were in the Harghita district, a typical Carpathian mountain environment. The figures also reveal that the population declined by 31% (from 8,000 to 6,533 individuals) in the 10 years between 1987-1997. In the Harghita district the decline was even more alarming. In a similar period, between 1985-1997, the population fell by 48% (from 1,185 to 615). In subsequent years, up to the present day, the decrease was drastic and the Harghita population is now estimated at only 250 260 animals: almost a thousand less than in 1989!
Where have 935 bears disappeared to in the course of 14 years? Who or what is responsible for this staggering population loss?

In order to gather solid evidence on grave illegal measures by members of the game administration, and unlawful methods of bear killing, AVES conducted an investigation into the activities of the Forestry Department in Miercurea Ciuc, the administrative capital of the Harghita district. In addition one of the five hunting associations in the district was investigated. In each area of our investigation into hunting of Brown Bear we discovered irregularities concerning the issue of hunting licences; and abuse of regulations on game stock management. In addition, in two further areas of our study, we uncovered grave and unacceptable violations of the hunting law. Those responsible for the illegal actions, in terms of the existing hunting laws are:

1. The national Forestry Administration (Regia Nationala a Padurilor), as represented by the Miercurea Ciuc Forestry Department; the local administration for hunting matters rests with the Zetea Forestry Office.

2. The Hunting Association of Romania: represented by the Tarnava Mare Hunting Association in Odorheiu Secuiesc for local matters.

The offences committed, which are leading to the rapid decline of the Brown Bear, are harmful to Romanias international image and reputation; and the reprehensible and illegal hunting methods conflict with international conventions for the protection of this species.

The AVES Foundation identified the following illegalities with regard to hunting of bears in the representative Harghita district:

An excessive shooting quota.
Use of animal carcasses as bait without the requisite licence in each specific case.
Infection of domestic and game stocks by illegal bear feeding with animal carcasses.
Unlawful use of closed hides.
Hunting of bears in their dens and beats of winter hibernation territories.
Mismanagement of game stocks.
Inadequate gamekeeper training with courses lasting only 30 days.
Uncontrolled poaching
Slaughter of pregnant females in autumn; and in early spring when the cubs are still in the dens.
Capture of young bears for a life in captivity.

Lack of space and time permits us to only expand on point 1. above. Further reports will follow.

Excessive shooting quota:
The bear shooting quota approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests, Water Management & Environment on the 11th September 2003 is manifestly unrealistic; and unsustainable in terms of the actual populations.
A total of 74 animals was approved for the 2003-2004 season; 30% of the remaining population in the Harghita district. In the case of the shooting quota approved for the Tarnava Mare Hunting Association (10 individuals) this also exceeds the loss which could be tolerated to maintain a sustainable population. Under current regulations this is a ration of 1:10.

The accurate shooting quota can be established by an exact bear count, by properly trained gamekeepers, in hibernation zones. This number then has to be divided by 10, because young bears (under 10 years of age) may not be shot. A bear count in the field by gamekeepers did not take place. This was established by an examination of official diaries and minutes on bear censuses. The lack of any concrete data from the field is fraudulent and led to an overestimation of bear populations. Instead the count was carried out either from office desks or on a cursory basis; and not, as it should be, in the hibernation zones. This led to bears being counted several times when passing through non-residential areas, at various points during their nightly wanderings (often over 15-20km), and in open rolling areas where a single bear appears to observers at different times and in different places. In this way the numbers, and as a result the shooting quota, were inflated. Checks of numbers in bear territories, when compared with the official estimates, prove that bears are routinely counted as resident in transit or food search areas; and are illegally shot in protected territories.

The estimates arrived at by these questionable and improper methods serve personal interests; an important factor being the financial profit generated by the shooting of large game. The current cost of a licence to shoot a bear is 7,000 . This means that a quota of 74 bears for Harghita district will bring in a revenue of over 500,000 . This exposes the real dimension of corruption among official hunting authorities and organisations.

AVES population estimates would permit the shooting of only 1 2 individuals for the Tarnava Mare Association Odorhei and 7 8 animals for the Miercurea Ciuc Forestry Department. The difference between this and the official hunting quota represents a vast mass of illegality. Our investigation revealed that although the Ministry is ultimately answerable for the over-inflated hunting quota, the real accountability lies with corrupt individuals in the Harghita district administration who are responsible for correct bear counts, and who approve the resultant applications for shooting quotas. These applications reach the Ministry without the proper verification which the law requires and calls into question the integrity and credibility of all official bodies concerned.
Those singled out for particular culpability, and who are also to blame for the use of illegal hunting methods of Brown Bear and other protected European species, are:

The Presidents and Directors of a number of Hunting Associations, the President of General Association of Hunters of Romania, individual Directors of State Forestry Offices, the Director of the Miercurea Ciuc Forestry Department, the management of the National Forestry Administration (Regia Nationala a Padurilor) and the Harghita Territorial Inspectorate for Forestry and Hunting Administration, the latter being responsible for the implementation of hunting legislation.

On the basis of the above arguments we respectfully request an urgent re-evaluation of the numbers of Brown Bears; and the initiation of a public inquiry into who is responsible for the present false and inflated figures. If illegal practices or mismanagement are established, we request the suspension of those responsible from duty and an official investigation into offences of misuse of authority and corruption. The economic damage caused to the Romanian State by shooting of bears in Harghita district alone are estimated to be some 400,000 .

Unless immediate action is taken to redress the illegalities in the present approved shooting quota for animals which are protected by European jurisdiction and international conventions, to which Romania is a signatory, we will consider it our duty to inform the European Parliament, the central Romanian and foreign mass-media, as well as competent national and international organizations.

Odorheiu Secuiesc, on the 25th Nov. 2002

Yours faithfully,