Getting the numbers right on brown bears in Romania | WWF

Getting the numbers right on brown bears in Romania

Posted on 03 August 2016
Brown bear (Ursus arctos) running near Zarnesti in the Central Carpathian Mountains, Romania.
© Michel Gunther / WWF
Knowing the realistic number of bears is important. On their basis we define how to manage the bear population and how many bears can be legally hunted. But how to do that when the official census proves to be wrong?

That’s exactly what happened in Romania. A recent research1 done by NGOs and academics has proved that the official number of brown bears in Romania is much higher than what is possible according to biological traits and ecological conditions. As a result of this, the hunting quota is much higher than it should be, putting at risk the whole bear population in time.

What is wrong with the counting system?

According to the official data issued by the Ministry of Environment, in certain counties of central and eastern part of Romania the bear population is supposed to grow four times faster than anywhere else in the world2. The same counties have also the highest numbers of hunted bears. The data on the population of lynx and wolf, two species with a lower economic value than the bear’s, are much more realistic.

Already in 2014, WWF Romania and ACDB did some research3 showing that the official numbers of brown bears are unrealistic - in some cases also contradictory - and have no scientific background.

In south-western Romania, managers of the hunting units themselves have admitted that some bears might be counted several times, as they move across the territory.This is happening across the brown bear’s territory in Romania.

After long discussions between WWF-Romania and the hunting units and local authorities, the official numbers in the south-west were reduced, not only for bears but also for wild cats and wolves. Although lynx, bear and wolves are protected by EU Habitats Directive, it seems that the assessment of wildlife population is done by game managers of hunting grounds on behalf of public authorities. This assessment is done as a mere administrative effort with no scientific grounds, which leads to setting much higher hunting quotas than it would be otherwise allowed.

This situation is not unique to Romania. Wildlife conservation often appears to be a matter of political debate rather than science and practical field-work.

What can be done?

Firstly, it’s important to switch from a methodology applied at game unit level1  to a regional and long-term monitoring system that covers all seasons, using new tools such as DNA analysis. And secondly, we should follow these principles to keep Europe’s beauties of nature better protected:
  • Quality control of data to be done by independent entities as part of the decision-making process;
  • Higher transparency in the whole process of defining the size of the large carnivores populations;
  • Better access to data owned by different governmental/public institutions for scientists. 
This story was developed in partnership with ACDB Romania 
1 Popescu, V.D., Artelle, K.A., Pop, M.I., Manolache, S. and Rozylowicz, L., 2016. (Online first) Assessing biological realism of wildlife population estimates in data-poor systems, Journal of Applied Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12660,

2 University of Bucharest – Centre for Environmental Research and Impact Studies. A Shot in the Dark: wildlife management driven by unrealistic wildlife data,
3 Pop, I.M. and Papp, C.R., 2014. Short analysis of the brown bear (Ursus arctos, Linnaeus, 1758) population and its management in the North-Western part of the Romanian Eastern Carpathians,  Acta Musei Maramorosiensis, Geology Division – Geography – Nature Sciences - Mineralogy, Maramureş Museum, Sighetu Marmaţiei, vol. IX., p. 293-300 What happens when the official #bear census proves to be wrong?
Brown bear (Ursus arctos) running near Zarnesti in the Central Carpathian Mountains, Romania.
© Michel Gunther / WWF Enlarge
The brown bear population in Caras-Severin, south-western Romania
© WWF Romania Enlarge
Large carnivores in Caras-Severin, south-western Romania
© WWF Romania Enlarge