Carpathian Bears – One of the planet’s most captivating creatures
Romania’s Carpathian Mountains are home to a wide range of wild animals, from big predators such as the brown bear, the wolf, and the lynx, to bison, deer, and foxes.
But did you know that 33% of Europe’s brown bears are found in Romania? The quality of Romania’s natural landscapes is appreciated worldwide by the great variety of wildlife found in the country, which includes a third of Europe’s brown bears as well as 25% of its wolves.
Although there is a favorable environment for about 90 mammalian species, some are labeled as nearly threatened or critically endangered. Why? The simple answer is illegal logging, loss of habitat, and hunting.
Licensed hunting is still permitted in Romania, with the most hunted animals being wild boars, roe and red deer. It’s worth mentioning that in 2016, the government banned the hunting of wild cats, brown bears, wolves, and lynx, only to have it suspended a year later.
But let’s dig a little deeper. In today’s article, we’ll cover some general facts about Carpathian bears, their environment, and the threats they face. So take a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and read through today’s blog post.
Before the mid-nineteenth century, brown bears lived throughout the wilderness of Romania, from the mountain peaks all the way to the southern plains and the Danube Delta. Since then, agricultural farming and livestock have used up much of the brown bear’s range, restraining their habitat to the Carpathian mountains. There, food is plentiful and the rocky terrain provides dens for hibernation. Large populations are found in Cheile Bicazului – Hășmaș, Cheile Nerei – Beușniț, and Călimani national parks.
Even so, Romania has one of the largest populations in Europe, consisting of about 4,000 individuals. Unfortunately, the number is in decline due to poaching and hunting, and environmental groups argue that it might be as low as 2,000.
European brown bears can reach exceptional sizes of just over 7ft (2.20m) weighing between 100-350kg. The biggest brown bear caught in Romania weighed 480kg.
Imagine them standing on two legs, walking on the soles of their feet, or picking things up with their “fingers”. That’s a sight! They are remarkable beings, that live to almost 30 years, and when they run they can reach speeds up to 60 km/h. Additionally, they have good hearing, an excellent sense of smell and no problem climbing trees.
Even if they are solitary creatures, they still communicate. How? Through scratch marks left on trees, smells, and sounds. Bears can be heard making moaning noises sometimes while they are foraging. They scratch and rub on trees and other landmarks to let other bears know the boundaries of their territory.
In the Romanian territory, most brown bears, that inhabit the Carpathian Mountains, are found in Cheile Bicazului – Hășmaș, Cheile Nerei – Beușniț, and Călimani national parks. Here, food is plentiful and the rocky terrain provides dens for hibernation.
Even if bears are viewed as cute and playful, they are still dangerous creatures. Carpathian bears are aggressively territorial and defensive and will attack whenever threatened.
When would bears attack? According to FlyfishingRomania, here are the signs:
When they have cubs and they feel threatened. Most attacks occur when Mother-bear sees a threat to the family.
When they have been wounded and feel vulnerable.
When they are close to their prey.
When they are bothered, being chased away repeatedly using stones, sticks, making them angry.
However, they instinctively avoid humans and only charge if they feel threatened.
Dangers Carpathian Bears Face
As mentioned earlier in the article, deforestation is a main cause for the downsizes of these magnificent beasts. Large parts of the forests in the Romanian part of the Carpathians have been lost and the pressure on timber as a resource has rapidly increased due to international demand.
So many Romanian brown bears have lost their habitat due to the growth of human settlements, agricultural land, and transportation infrastructure in the Carpathian Mountains. All of these have contributed to the changing behaviors and movements of these creatures which lead to conflicts with humans. Bears are adaptable and modify their behavior to take advantage of their environment and as they are limited and forced to find food in rural areas, they get into ‘conflict’ with people. In 2020, there were 50 people injured and two killed due to bear attacks.
Poaching and uncontrolled hunting are also threats for these creatures. Hunters can pay as much as $15,000 to track and kill a Romanian bear.
After going through all the information, one thing is clear: bears need to be understood and respected by people. If we want to enjoy these incredible creatures for many, many years to come, they need our protection and support.
Author Ioana A. Făghian
Carpathian Bison – from extinction, incredible recovery to a bright future
The bison is a majestic creature and the largest native herbivore in Europe. They play an essential role in shaping the forests and maintaining a healthy landscape and ecosystem. If you wish to discover what makes these beasts so special, learn about their turbulent past and how they’ve been saved and reintroduced to the wild, take a few minutes to read this piece.
Big, fast, sumptuous beasts
In terms of looks, they stand out. These animals have a dark- or reddish-brown coat, short, angular horns, and a large, muscular hump between the shoulder blades. Adult males can grow to a height of 1.9 meters, reach a length of 3 meters, and can tip the scales at almost 1000 kg.
They live in open or semi-open grasslands and seek food and shelter in forests. They feed primarily on grasses and herbs, which constitute two-thirds of their diet, as well as on trees and shrubs.
Bison’s turbulent past
In the 20th century, bison were almost extinct due to overhunting, poaching, and habitat loss.
Did you know?
Heartening recovery & rewilding of the European bison
Being on the brink of extinction, the focus in 1928 was on managing to breed and on studying these species in an attempt to rewild them. The forest in Poland was still a great place to reintroduce them, so a special breeding project was set up there.
In 1954, the first bison were released back into the wild in Poland’s Białowieża Forest. Nowadays, almost 600 European bison inhabit the place, showing that even small nature reserves can be home to large wildlife. Additionally, the largest herds can be found in Belarus and Poland.
After a 200-year absence, bison return to Romania
Bark tore from trees. Hoofprints in the mood. All of these are signs that the wild Carpathian bison is back. This was possible due to a successful project intended to reintroduce these creatures to the region after a centuries-long absence.
Even if they are large in size, they are hard to spot as they have been tempted further into the forest by the abundant vegetation and the need to extend their habitat.
“Thanks to reintroduction work by Rewilding Europe, WWF Romania, and the LIFE RE-Bison project, today, more than 100 are roaming free in the Țarcu Mountains. These include nearly 40 calves born in the wild. This is the largest bison population in Romania. The reintroduction involved many experts and rangers, 32 breeding centers and reserves in Europe, 28 GPS collars, and 14 transports.” Quote from the European Climate Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency.
All these initiatives are proof of how joined forces can achieve the impossible. It takes a community that is linked by persistence, commitment, and consistency to put in the necessary effort for the greater good of animals.
Wild Carpathian Project was created for wild animals. Animals that are constantly overlooked, face extinction and need to adapt constantly.
Author Ioana A. Făghian
The misunderstood, majestic Carpathian WOLVES
The Carpathian mountain range covers a third of Romania’s territory, sheltering most of the country’s big mammals. Today’s blog post focuses on the wolf, more precisely, the grey wolf.
Find out why these creatures are truly unique, and discover the grey wolf’s past during the Communist regime in Romania, the struggles they now face and how we can help them.
Did you know Romania hosts about 10% of Europe’s wolf population?
They are mostly found in the stunning Carpathian forests of Transylvania and they are a rare sight to see.
According to Animal Corner: “The Eurasian Wolf (Canis lupus lupus), also known as the Common Wolf, European Wolf, Carpathian Wolf, Steppes Wolf, Tibetan Wolf and Chinese Wolf is a subspecies of the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus). Currently, it has the largest range among wolf subspecies and is the most common in Europe and Asia, ranging through Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Mongolia and the Himalayan Mountains.”
They have long bushy tails that are often black-tipped. Their coat colour is usually a combination of grey and brown with yellowish-brown facial markings and undersides.
Size & weight:
Depending on where they live, wolves may vary in size. Wolves in the north are typically larger than those in the south. The average height of a Carpathian wolf’s body is 80 to 85 cm. And their length may vary between 1 – 1,6 m. An adult male can weigh between 30 to 80 kg and females typically weigh 23 – 55 kg.
Social, Resilient & Adaptable:
Wolves are highly social animals and caring parents that are organised in extended family groups called packs. However, depending on territory, it has been observed that wolves living in the Carpathians tend to be predominantly solitary hunters. No more than seven animals are in a pack and they range over an area of 50 to 100 square miles, much smaller than the ranges of wolves in the western half of the United States, which can be as large as 500 square miles.
Unlike other Carpathian species, like bison or bears, wolves distinguish themselves because they are highly intelligent, caring, playful, and above all, devoted to family. They are known to educate their young and look after their injured pack members. The alphas are the ones that guide and lead the pack.
“The job of maintaining order and cohesion falls largely to the alphas, also known as the breeding pair. Typically, there is only one breeding pair in a pack. They, especially the alpha female (the mother of the pack), are the glue keeping the pack together.“, it is explained on the website Living with Wolves.
A wolf’s good senses, feet – made for travelling, canine teeth and coat, are a few traits that make this creature resilient and highly adaptable in various environments.
Did you know that a wolf can tell, from the scent-markings of another wolf, that other wolf’s gender, stress level, age, dominance, reproductive status, and even its identity?
Grey wolves in the past
For centuries, Romanians have lived with wolves. Unfortunately, during the Communist era, these carnivores were portrayed as the ‘enemy of the people and they were hunted and poisoned as part of a significant campaign to eradicate them.
But, in the early 90s, the wolf eventually became a protected species although it was not until 2016 that a ban on wolf hunting was introduced. Now, about 2,500-3,000 wolves live in the Romanian Carpathians in large areas with few roads and lots of prey.
In Europe, these species are making a nice comeback: “Spreading outward from strongholds in Poland and the Carpathians, Eurasian wolf packs and individuals have now been spotted as far west as the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In total, the grey wolf population in Europe is estimated to be around 12,000 animals (excluding Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia) in 28 countries.“, points out RewildingEurope.
Extinction and threats
Wolves have constantly been feared and misunderstood. By the mid-20th century, their range was greatly reduced as they were viewed as voracious killers of livestock and a danger to people. Range-wide persecution led to population decline, resulting in fragmented populations and local extinctions across Europe.
Even if in the past 50 years, many initiatives and laws favour these majestic beasts, their negative image persists, partly based on misconceptions but also because people always had to defend their livestock against them.
In the Carpathians, the threats these creatures face are:
Deforestation – a main cause of the downsizes of these carnivores.
Habitat destruction and intentional killing – as remote areas become developed and fragmented, vital habitat is lost. Also, traps are put to catch them and also, they have been frequently poisoned.
Hunting – illegal hunting continues to be a menace for wolves.
Despite new conservation legislation, the Carpathians are slowly being reduced by an increase in mass tourism, logging, and the construction of roads and summer homes.
All things considered, the main threat to these animals is us, humans. So what can we do? What is in our power?
The first thing is to educate ourselves and better understand wolves and how to provide them with a safe environment leaving them undisturbed. Second, it’s useful to raise awareness about wolves so we can teach others how to shift their misconceptions to come and understand why they matter, how they impact the ecosystem and why it’s so crucial to leave harmoniously together.
Through our Wild Carpathian Project, we aim to find a way of contributing to the benefit of these legendary creatures. Through your involvement, we plan to better connect with NGOs that protect wolves, understand their needs and how we can be oh help to give wolves the best chance there is.