An unexpected governmental decision comes to the protection of large carnivores in Romania, after years of rising hunting quotas since joining the EU.

Image credits Albert Lew / Flickr.

The country’s government has imposed an unexpected ban on trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynxes, and big cats on Tuesday. The move will give remaining populations of carnivores a respite from the abusive hunting practices that have been threatening it. Future incidents of damage by wildlife will be handled by the soon-to-be-created Serviciul de Urgenta pentru Animale Salbatice (The Wild Animal Emergency Service / SUAS).

Romania is home to the largest population of big predators in Europe — and, sadly, the Union’s most sought-after hunting spot. Over the last decade, hunting for sport has grown into an industry worth millions of euros in the country, with hunters shelling out up to €10,000 (£8,800) to claim a single trophy from the Carpathians, the Guardian reports. So it’s not hard to see why Romania has been setting higher and higher quotas of large carnivores to be taken down each year since joining the EU in 2007. The largest one yet, set in 2016, called for the shooting of 550 bears, 600 wolves, and 500 big cats over the year.

To put it into perspective, that’s equivalent to killing the entire brown bear population in Slovakia, the population of wolves living in France, Norway, and Sweeden, and four Poland-worths of lynxes — in one country, in a single year. Official data shows that 2,374 bears, 1,586 wolves, 898 big cats, and 120 lynxes have been shot in Romania between 2007 and 2015, local media reports.

While these species are technically protected in states of the EU under the habitats directive, legislative loopholes allow for the hunting of dangerous wild animals — those that have attacked a person or have damaged public property. Hunting associations across the country are responsible for reporting the total number of large carnivore in the country and how many of them are likely to cause damages, to governmental agencies each year. Based on the second number, authorities would decide on a hunting quota for each species which would be divided up between hunting associations to be sold to hunters as permits.

Hands up if you spot the conflict of interest there.

I do, and I’m just a bear.
Image via Wikimedia.

Even worse, since every association tends to a particular area of the country many animals are counted more than once, potentially inflating the total reported population by thousands of individuals.

“[…] there has been some controversy regarding the method by which these species’ populations are calculated or numbered, [as well as] suspicions regarding the utility of preemptive intervention and rectitude of intervention,” said environment minister Cristina Pasca-Palmer for local media. “The question was if these species really are [intervened upon] because of an underlying human-animal conflict, or if it’s just a cloacked hunting practice.”

In her interview with The Guardian, she added:

“How can hunting associations count how many animals are causing damages a priori – before the damages have happened? By introducing the ban, what we are doing is simply putting things back on the right track, as the habitats directive originally intended.”

“Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway,” she added “[The dangerous animal clause] acted as a cover for trophy hunting.”

There is some concern that Tuesday’s decision will divide the country’s population — with urban residents welcoming the decision, and those living in the countryside opposing it. Wildlife protection group NGO Milvus’ bear specialist with Csaba Domokos says that damages by wildlife “are a very real concern in the countryside.” He adds that while the hunting system up to now definitely didn’t work, locals see killing the predators as the only real option. The success or failure of the law hinges on how well SUAS will handle future incidents.

But overall, the Romanian people put great value on maintaining the wilderness wild and welcome the decision. There are strong traditional ties to the wilderness and the environment, and in recent years anti-corruption officers have convicted dozens of foresters, hunters, and local officials for abusive practices that led to environmental damage.

“The Carpathian mountains are home to more biodiversity than anywhere else in Europe, but for too long they have been ruthlessly exploited for forestry and hunting. Let’s hope the government’s decision is a sign of things to come,” said activist and conservationist Gabriel Paun, who gathered 11,000 signatures for a petition in support of the ban.

The option of exporting excess wildlife to other countries interested in ‘re-wilding’ is also being discussed.

 

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