The phenomenon of garbage-scavenging bears has been known as far as twenty years back, ever since the first real estate development started taking place in the neighbourhood of the Tampa mountains.
These garbage-scavenging bears are animals that are usd to procuring food from the household garbage disposal areas in Racadau. These areas are situated at the edge of the forest, in proximity to the city’s streets.
More than 30,000 people live in these appartment buldings that are characteristic to the ’glorious’ realisations of the Ceausescu ’golden era’. The natural habitat of many species was destroyed through these real estate developments. These buildings are separate from the forest only by narrow streets. The disposal areas are situated at the edge of the forest and consists of 11 concrete garbage containers.
The Racadau Valley and its surroundings were a favourite spot for outdoors activities for the people of Brasov, from as early as the 1910s. According to historical documents, bears were rarely seen in this area, although hunting was practiced here as early as the 15th century.
The first problems related to the scavenging behavior of bears (and not only bears!) occurred at the beggining of the 1970s, when at the directions of the communist authorities, the local municipality started feeding the bears for hunting purposes. The feeding of bears was used as a method of baiting in order to make these animals an easy target to hunters. The animals became habituated to the practice of feeding and over the years, more and more of them started coming to these baiting places where they could always find an easy meal.
The garbage containers at the edge of Racadau neighborhood are very close to these baiting places. Younger males, 4 to 5 years of age that are driven away from the feeding areas by dominant males, have started to search for food in the garbage disposal area. These garbage disposal areas are improperly maintained, as the garbage is not wrapped in plastic bags but ratter scattered all over the place, so it is not surprising that the animals are attracted by the smell.
According to the research conducted by the author of this document, research started in 1984, the number of scavenger bears increased from year to year. In the 1980s, the number of scavenger bears that were regularly visiting the garbage disposal areas, was only of 6 to 8 animals. In 1990s, it has reached 12 to 14 animals, and in the summer of the 2003, 24 animals were observed during a single night, most of them mothers with cubs. Some of these mothers recurrence to these areas was observed for as long as 2, 3 years.
According to our estimations based on the observations described above, the number of scavenger animals will continue to grow if measures are not taken with regards to the garbage disposal areas or by applying other scientific solutions elaborated through consultation with independent experts. The best solution is as simple as removing the garbage every day instead of letting it decompose for weeks.
In 2003, following the “punitive” intervention of the vice-mayor of Brasov, the bear harvest quotas were abusively increased, and 16 animals were shot in the Racadau area. Obviously, the garbage-scavenging phenomenon could not be stopped through these “punitive” measures; quite on the contrary, the authorities have proven yet again that they are incapable of handling the situation in a rational and compassionate manner. According to the authorities, the problem can only be stopped by exterminating the entire bear population from the Brasov area. These false conclusions, and at the same time illegal actions that are taken are only motivated by the financial aspect of the hunting business, as the scavenger bears are sold to foreign hunters that pay large amounts of money for bear trophies.
Another problem related to the “punishment” action taken by the local municipality is the fact that the majority of the bears shot in this campaign, were not even scavenger bears. The hunters, abusing their hunting authorizations, did not shoot the scavenger bears, as the majority of these bears are mothers with cubs that do not represent important trophies for hunters since they are smaller in size. Therefore, instead of the scavenger bears the hunters killed male adults that were attracted to the feeding zones with bait.
Based on the testimony of a few hunters from Brasov, only 7 out of 16 bears shot, were scavenger bears. The rest of 9 bears were simply bears that were not showing any signs of scavenging behavior and were killed in the forest.
According to my personal research, the increase of scavenger animals is justified by the increase of garbage in these disposal areas. But the main reason for this behavior that is uncharacteristic to this species is its transmission from generation to generation, from mothers to cubs.
The mother bears that were accustomed by their mothers to feed at the garbage disposal areas, will most likely teach their youngsters to feed here as well. Besides, these places represent and easy way to procure food for the youngsters without any apparent dangers.
Another reason for this unusual behavior is the fact the human settlements represent a safe heaven for the mother bears with young cubs of 1 to 2 years of age, which would otherwise face the danger of getting killed by males looking for mating. Personally, I have never witness any aggressive behavior towards the cubs form the part of the scavenging dominant male bears, because these males are not frequenting these areas but are rather drawn to the baiting areas especially set up by the hunters.
The garbage scavenging bears, which have broken away from the their traditional habitat and behavior, and do not feel threatened by humans have become animals with an altered behavior. They have become accustomed to feeding off the human settlements, they do not look for other sources of food anymore, and they do not retreat in the face of dangers presented by humans. Moreover, the females, through the education that they are giving to their cubs, are transmitting and propagating this disastrous way of life for the species.
Given all the above, I would like to make a very important remark, regarding the periods of time when bears feed at the garbage disposal areas. According to my observations recorded over the past years, the number of bears that are feeding at the garbage areas decreases in the hunting season (March 15th – May 15th and October 15th – December 1st). The decrease can only be explained by the fact that during these times the hunting bait areas are heavily used by hunters and the a large number of bears are attracted to them.
Once these periods are over and the feeding ceases suddenly, younger animals that got used to being fed and escaped hunting season, will go on scavenging in the garbage for food. The majority of these scavenging bears have not become completely detached from their regular habitat and normal way of life. They usually show up only for a few hours in the garbage areas, during the night. These bears are spending their days in their natural habitat, and once winter settles in, they will retreat in their hibernation dens. There is no evidence that the scavenging bears have completely removed themselves from their natural habitat.
Although, some of the tamer animals are being hand fed by the locals, and this fact can have severe consequences. It is a fact that in the past two decades there were no major human-bear incidents, except a few scratches caused by bears. But when people under the influence of alcohol start harassing the animals that are feeding around these areas, as it was the case with the two persons who were attacked by the mother bear, major accidents are only waiting to happen.
Scavenging is also very dangerous to the animals, as they are poisoned with various substances commonly used in households: medicine, detergents etc. At the same time they are exposed to various contagious diseases like Trichinelosis and other numerous parasites, as these areas are frequented by rats, feral cats and dogs, which also feed here. The greatest danger is represented by the fact that these bears could ingurgitate broken glass, metal and plastic bags normally found in the garbage, which could be lethal to them.
The origin of the scavenging bears that are so wide spread now in the Central Carpathian Mountains, can therefore be found in the hunting practices established by the Romanian Wildlife and Forest Management authorities as well as the hunting associations and clubs. These practices not only alter the natural behavior of these animals but also destroy the population of brown bears in Romania. This is a perfect example of dramatic effects caused by improper human interaction with nature.
The reason for all this? The thirst for power of a mad dictator and the desire to satisfy his need for record trophies. A whole new branch of consultancy has been born from this desire, “special trophy consultants”, people who actually lead the national campaign of bear feeding and bear baiting.
The professional incompetence and lack of interest shown by these „specialists”, inherited from Ceausescu’s era, the unprofessional evaluations of the bear population by the Forest Ministry (MAPAM) and Forest Research Institute (ICAS), as well the tacit help of some influent politicians, have all contributed to the proliferation of the phenomenon in other counties of Romania. Without exaggeration this situation represents a deadly threat for the romanian brown bear, considered a special protected species by the Bern Convention and the Law 462/2001.
The measures ordered by the mayor of Brasov: the capturing, removal and extermination of bears are illegal and the office had no permission from the competent central authorities.
AVES Foundation edited last autumn (when bears and peoples of Brasov still lived in peace) a preliminary report about the situation of scavenger animals, which were sent to the appropriate offices, but our observation and proposals remained without answer or echo. In that situation, when after the recent incident bears are threatened with extermination in Brasov, we consider necessary to request the urgent support of European and international nature conservation and protection organizations, because Romanian individuals and institutions are unable to solve this situation in a humane and reassuring way.
With reference to the above, we have asked the support of the European Committee to intervene with the Romanian authorities to stop the illegal slaughter actions against the bears in Brasov and to provide a sensible solution to the crisis.
Odorheiu Secuiesc, July 2004.