Croatia joined the European Union on 1 July and conservation scientists fear that the EU's rules could cause problems for its brown bear population.
The country has been managing its brown bears as game animals, meaning they can be hunted; but under EU legislation, bears are a protected species and can only be shot if they are deemed to be problem animals.
This might seem to be a positive outcome for the bears. However, it could lead to reduced tolerance for bears among local people, because the local economy will lose valuable revenue from hunting, according to a study by researchers from Imperial College London and Zagreb University.
They argue that a system involving hunting ensures local support for bears in Croatia, which is vital in ensuring the animals' long-term survival. It was a lack of local support for large carnivores, such as wolves and bears, that led to these animals disappearing from much of Europe in previous centuries.
Under the Croatian hunting system, 10 to 15 per cent of the total bear population can be killed each year, and individual hunting organisations receive the right to hunt a portion of this quota. These organisations sell the rights to shoot bears for trophies to hunters, which enables them to provide employment to local people, and to compensate farmers quickly for any bear damage. Under this system, the local economy has benefited and the bear population has remained stable.
In contrast, in neighbouring Slovenia, bears are protected under EU law. This means that local people gain little from their presence, and are less tolerant of them. Many bears are killed as problem animals, for damaging crops or endangering people and livestock. The researchers estimate that on average over the last five years, 20 per cent of Slovenia's bear population has been killed each year, compared with around 8 per cent of the bear population in Croatia.
At present, trophy hunting for bears i
|Contact: Laura Gallagher|
Imperial College London