Home Newsletter 2009 Bear research in Bulgaria

by Kostadin Valchev

A study on human dimension in Bulgaria, done by the NGO Balkani Wildlife Society in 2008, showed that, as opposed to wolves, the attitudes of the local communities towards bears are generally positive.

This is the case even though often the supporters of bear hunting (legal and illegal) argue that bears are present in too high densities and that they cause damage and represent a risk for humans.

Illegal hunting is nowadays a very strong threat for bears in Bulgaria. Recent changes in game and forest management include increased logging and supplementary feeding of game. In these situations bear presence is registered more often and hunters gain the conviction that the Bulgarian bear population has greatly increased. This has recently had as a consequence that the cases of illegal killing of these animals have greatly increased.

In this context reliable data about bear density can be used as a tool to decrease human caused mortality. In the frame of the LIFE EX-TRA project in 2009 the Ministry of Environment and Water and Balkani Wildlife Society have started the monitoring of the Brown bear population according to the guidelines of the National System for Biological Diversity Monitoring.
The project team took part in four training session for foresters and park rangers, where information was provided about DNA, mark-recapture and other census methods, and where containers for samples and field forms were distributed.
As a result the team of Balkani Wildlife Society has collected 34 DNA samples and least as many are expected to be collected from the staff of the National parks directorates and Executive Forest Agency. Fur traps have also been set up in order to collect more samples, especially in important corridor areas. The result of these monitoring techniques will also provide information about the connectivity of the population (barrier effect) and the level of inbreeding in the different subpopulations.

Another part of the monitoring in the project areas include GPS-GSM telemetry. On 30 April 2009 a first male bear (named Damyan) was released from an illegal snare and fitted with a radiocollar. The collar fell of the bear after 3 months but the information collected in this period has been very important.
In September trapping activities have started again and in October two bears were captured: a young male bear (Rusi) in Central Balkan NP and a young female (Sashka) in Smolian region. The female is a problem bear that regularly causes damages on beehives around the villages. Even the stress of capturing and handling did not stop the bear from damaging beehives.
The monitoring through telemetry will provide data about home range, daily activities, response to human activities such as logging, hunting, tourism, verification of habitat models, etc. as well as behavior and range of a problem bears.