Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In Romania’s brown bear country, cohabitation grows ever more tense

In Romania’s brown bear country, cohabitation grows ever more tense

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A brown bear walks with her cubs at a bear observatory near the Tusnad tourist resort in central Romania on October 19. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP

In Romania’s brown bear country, cohabitation grows ever more tense

When Maria Lacatus’s 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 too a few days later, Lacatus now agrees with many of her neighbours 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 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 which have always been a common sight in Cusma, population about 600 and lying eight hours by road from the capital Bucharest.

But residents say that the bears didn’t use 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 specialised 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.

‘Maintain a balance’

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

Some 100,000 people have signed an online petition launched by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) asking members of Parliament to reject the bill.

EU 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.

Hunting bears in the nation of 20 million people, known for its large swaths of rural countryside with poor infrastructure, as well as forested mountains and hills, has periodically been permitted, including in the 1970s and again in the 1990s.

Despite Romania joining the EU in 2007, hundreds of bears were killed for almost a decade under a system of waivers that stopped in 2016 due to a public outcry.

Since then, the environment ministry has allowed so-called nuisance bears to be killed – those that bother villagers – and recommends culling only as a last resort.

Some 140 bears were killed in 2017 but the tool is deemed inefficient and bureaucratic by hunters.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Maria Lacatus, 86, recalls a bear attack inside the pig shelter at her home in Cusma village on October 17. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP

‘Trophy hunting’

Romania is thought to have more than 6,000 brown bears spread across about 30 per cent of the country and especially in the Carpathian mountains.

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 professor at Ohio University in the US who wrote a study on the overestimation of Romania’s bear population.

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

Csaba Domokos, a bear expert and researcher for nature preservation group Milvus, believes any hunting quota should be based on scientific studies.

“You can’t do population control through hunting when you don’t know the population,” he said.

The encounters with bears in villages are not proof the population is getting out of hand, insists Silviu Chiriac, of Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, who has been studying Romania’s wildlife for 20 years.

“What has changed is that now everybody has a mobile phone with a camera and internet.

“Anyone can take a picture of a bear track or of a specimen and post it on Facebook, giving the impression that Romania is besieged by animals,” Chiriac said.

Tourists feeding them, inappropriate refuse management, fields of crops extending near their habitat also affect the bears’ behaviour, according to environmentalists.

Until 2016, hunting as a sport flourished, and bears were given “tonnes of apples, corn, concentrate [a mix of nutrients] and dead cows brought into the forest to habituate them for trophy hunting mostly”, Popescu said, a claim disputed by hunters.

“Their space and ecology changed – the whole system changed [in 2016] when we stopped feeding them,” he added.


Cusma village is close to Dealu Negru, a fairytale-like hill which used to be the hunting ground of former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

With their backyards going up into the forest, locals fear they are easy prey. Some say they are afraid to go out at night or let their children go to school in the daytime.

Twice in the last few months authorities used the national alert system to warn residents directly on their phones about a bear’s presence near Cusma.

Domokos warns that villagers will ultimately take matters into their own hands and start poisoning the bears if the authorities do nothing.

“Either way, this won’t end well for the bears,” Domokos said.


  • ‘Potential shield’ for virus hangs in balance

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) suspended trials of the drug that US president Donald Trump has promoted as a coronavirus defence, fuelling concerns about his handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 US citizens. Trump has led the push for hydroxychloroquine as a potential

  • Gov’t rolls out stimulus to keep businesses afloat

    The government has introduced the fourth round of stimulus measures aimed at ensuring economic and social stability during the outbreak of the Covid-19 disease. The move, which was announced on Tuesday, is designed to help businesses, factories and enterprises to stay afloat while reducing the

  • E-cigarette back in spotlight amid virus pandemic

    The Ministry of Health’s Department of Communicable Disease (DCD) department has released a video about the effects of smoking, while the NGO Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) warned against the use of electronic cigarettes or vape. The short video clip that was posted on

  • Por Sen Chey woman murdered

    Por Sen Chey district police are searching for a suspect who robbed and killed a woman in a rented room in Samraong Kraom commune in Phnom Penh at 6:30pm on Monday. Deputy district police chief Chea Sovann told The Post on Tuesday that the victim,

  • Police chief: remove all roadblocks

    National Police chief Neth Savoeun warned Phnom Penh and provincial police chiefs to remove all roadblocks, saying that traffic police officials in some provinces had tightened traffic law implementation against guidelines. In a leaked voice message which was shared on social media on Tuesday, Savoeun

  • Man held for violating daughter and niece

    Kandal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department officers sent a man to the provincial court on Tuesday after arresting him the day before for allegedly molesting his daughter and niece in Sa’ang district. Department chief Ros Savin said the 30-year-old construction worker was questioned