Working toward a mutually beneficial relationship between man and bear

Working toward a mutually beneficial relationship between man and bear

“There is no such thing as harmonious coexistence between man and bear; that’s how nature intended it. However, our coexistence can be made more manageable if we take certain measures so that man does not feel defenseless and bears are not threatened.”

It was with this brief introduction that Spyros Psaroudas, the director of Callisto, described the work that the organization for the protection of wildlife and nature has been doing for the past five years in the northern Greek prefecture of Kastoria – with funding from the European Union’s Life program – which has earned it a nomination in the Natura 2000 awards, set to be handed out in a ceremony at the end of May.

The aim of the program was to introduce measures in Kastoria that would help the endangered native brown bear population and human residents share their habitat more easily, with the focus being on the prefecture’s agricultural areas.

“The first problem we dealt with was bear attacks on livestock in remote areas,” explained Psaroudas. “It took a systematic effort, but we managed to form a network between livestock farmers so they could acquire good herding dogs from other farmers raising them. We also gave them electric fences, which prevent bears from encroaching on animals without harming them.”

The program also addressed two problems that had emerged in recent years. The first was that of bears being killed by cars on a particular stretch of the Siatista-Kristalopigi highway, which was constructed a couple of years ago. The second was appearances by bears in villages and even a few incidents in the town of Kastoria.

“The fencing that had been put along the road couldn’t contain a chicken, so we had to do something fast. We took preventive measures, such as placing special signposts warning motorists that this stretch was a bear crossing, placing reflectors so that the light from vehicles’ headlights would shine more brightly and scare bears away and, of course, installing the right kind of fencing. Thanks to these measures, accidents involving bears have dropped by 90-95 percent,” said Psaroudas.

The toughest job was relocating the bears far away from residential areas.

“We formed a rapid response team which would intervene every time a bear was sighted in a populated area. Just like pets, wild animals can also be taught what they should avoid doing. So we employed techniques that would help the bears associate fear and discomfort with actions that encroached on humans. For example, we used stun grenades and rubber bullets to frighten the bears off when they approached villages,” explained Callisto’s director.

There was no shortage of tension with local residents over this five-year period either, especially when a bear caused destruction.

“These were usually isolated incidents linked to a particular event. I don’t think it ever became a big deal,” said Kastoria Mayor Anestis Angelis.

“There is discord among the agricultural community about whether these measures will pay off. In my opinion, the program has a lot of positive qualities. It’s just that with everything else that is going on, most people ridicule environmental issues.”

Kastoria is one of Greece’s most important brown bear habitats, and particularly the west of the Pindos range, which constitutes a corridor with the rest of the Balkans, where the rest of the brown bear population can be found.

Thanks to tracking devices attached to nine bears and genetic research conducted with the help of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, scientists have determined that there are at least 97 bears in this area.

“We are often asked to determine how many bears are too many for this area,” said Psaroudas. “There is no such dilemma. If you adopt the right measures, you can eventually benefit from the presence of the bear and utilize it to the benefit of the local communities.”

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