Bear behavior studied in Pindus mountains

THESSALONIKI – Researchers studying brown bears in northwestern Greece say their recent work shows the endangered animals have immense stamina and mobility. Alexandros, the largest bear living in the eastern Pindus range, has traipsed 260 square kilometers over mountains in and around Valia Kalda National Park. Four other bears – Geronimo, the 210-kilo Aias and their female companions Maya and Felicia – have also covered similar distances. Researchers fitted the bears with collars that emitted radio waves via global positioning system, allowing researchers to draw several conclusions. «We have shown that each bear has its own territory, but in contrast to wolves, they are tolerant of other bears, allowing them within their own feeding areas,» said G. Mertzanis, a biologist with the Kalisto environmental organization. Biologists used various methods to collar the animals, including traps monitored by VHF transmissions. When a bear was caught, it was injected with an anaesthetic before being fitted with the collar. For about a year, the collars emitted signals. The eastern Pindus range around Grevena, Ioannina and Trikala has become the most important natural laboratory in Europe for observing large mammals. Using DNA analyses by Thessaloniki University’s genetics lab, biologists from Greek environmental groups have counted 44 bears in a region where it was thought the species had revived, while in the Rhodope range, the brown bear’s second-largest habitat in Greece, the population is stationary. According to these environmental groups, there are now about 130-160 bears and 500-700 wolves in Greece. They believe the greatest challenge for the protected species is making sure they can coexist with humans. In areas such as Kastoria, Grevena and Serres, there is strong opposition from groups working in the countryside. Nearly all European countries with threatened species have drafted plans for the management and protection of these species and their coexistence with humans. In Greece, procedures began recently to institute action plans for the wolf and the bear, including provisions for preventing damage to farms. The results of research programs in Greece and cross-border cooperation in protecting Europe’s five threatened species of carnivores were presented at an international conference a few days ago in Slovenia. About 100 delegates from 27 countries participated. Apart from the wolf and the bear, this group of endangered animals includes two types of lynx and the wolverine, found in Scandinavian countries, northern Russia and North America.