Home Newsletter 2011 Results of Carnivore Monitoring in Greece

by Yorgos Mertzanis

In the frame of the LIFE-EXTRA project, large carnivore monitoring in Greece focused on the brown bear (Ursus arctos) because it is the only species targeted by the project. The monitoring activities were carried out mainly in the three SCI’s comprised in the project area.

This was done through a combination of techniques used to gather direct and indirect information, according to the following protocol:

 

  • Field surveys to detect signs of bear presence and activity with the help of infrared cameras;
  • Direct interviews, with the help of a standardized questionnaire, with shepherds, livestock raisers and farmers, for the evaluation of bear damage on agriculture;
  • The Collection of systematic data from other official sources on records relating to bear damage;
  • On the spot visits by a local assistant dealing with the project;
  • Bear Emergency Team operations.

 

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A picture of a Bear

Each of the above mentioned approaches gave useful information both on the status of the general population of the brown bear in the area as well as on the amount of damage caused by the bear. The damage on agriculture often creates situations of conflict between bears and humans., which usually has a rather negative impact on the bear population. The main output from the monitoring activity performed so far can be summarized as follows:

Population status

  • The bear population in the target area can be estimated at 40-50 individuals;
  • The overall geographic distribution of the brown bear in the project area being investigated seems to have remained unchanged compared to previous data, which referred to the period between1994 and 1999;
  • The population density was not easy to estimate given the short time frame and means available. However, the use of indirect methods such as infrared cameras, helped in the identification of seven (7) different individuals in an area of about 200 square kilometres;
  • The two adjacent SCI’s (“Aspropotamos” -GR1440001- & “Koziakas” -GR1440002-) near the central part of the Pindos range are the most suitable as bear habitats and show the greatest number of signs of bear presence and activity;
  • The third SCI (“Antixasia-Meteora” SCI GR1440003), although showing fewer indications of bear presence, plays a key role as a natural green bridge sector in the eastwards expansion of the bear range by the above-mentioned source population towards the Olympus Mountain range;
  • Two cases of bear poaching, two bear-vehicle collision accidents as well as several cases of bear damage to livestock clearly indicate the urgent need for wardens and for the enhancement of preventive measures.

 

Bear damage on agriculture

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A picture of a print of a Bear
  • Bovines are by far the livestock category subjected to the most frequent bear attacks and bear damage to beehives is a considerable part of the problem all year round. Overall losses represent a total compensation cost of 552,946 euros or 110,589 euros a year. This amount is much lower than the compensation paid for natural disasters;
  • The most frequent cases of bear damage to crops in the project area occur on vineyards and cornfields with respectively 39.6% and 29% of the incidents. The highest intensity (in terms of quantity consumed) of damage seems to be respectively for corn and grapes. The other three categories (cherries, walnuts and chestnuts) comparatively show a much lower rate of damage intensity. This represents a total damage cost of 20,000 euros for the three year period or 6,666 euros a year;
  • The seasonal nature of bear damage to livestock shows the two choices of summer and mid-autumn, which are related to plant phenology and the presence of livestock in the bear habitat;
  • The most effective solutions to avoid and/or minimize the bear damage problem on livestock and crops is the use of preventive measures such as:
    - Electric fencing which can be used for damage prevention on beehives, crops and stables (this device can be operational with all types of weather as it is fitted with a solar panel for continuous power);
    - Livestock guarding dogs (LGD’s) which is the most traditional preventive measure that has been used by shepherds for decades especially in cases of free grazing and extensive livestock raising;
  • The use of good quality LGD’s as a preventive measure against bear damage, has been proved to be highly acceptable by livestock owners. Most shepherds (81 %) recognize that these dogs can play a key role in the reduction of depredation. It emerges that the efficiency of LGD’s resides not in their number per flock but manly in their skills and qualities.

In conclusion, we can say that a combination of systematic damage recording, identification and compensation, combined with efficiently and widely implemented preventive measures would certainly optimize bear-human coexistence in terms of conflicts related to damage, in the area targeted by the project.