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A relatively high number of rehabilitated brown bear cubs have been released over the last years. However, do we know if these bears behave normally? Or do they present any kind of different behaviour compared with the totally wild ones? In this project a team from Fundacion Oso de Asturias (FOA) in Spain, together with experts from ARCTUROS and the IUCN Bear Specialist Group want to describe and compare the behaviours of released brown bears that have gone through a captive-rearing process (i.e. rehabilitated) with independent subadult bears that have been raised within their family group in the wild.

Specifically, the team wants to compare daily activity and movement patterns of subadult brown bears and their use or avoidance of anthropogenic habitats. On the other hand, the team also wants to evaluate complementary bear data considering other brown bear populations (e.g. British Columbia) or other bear species (e.g. American and Asiatic black bears).

The results of this study may be of particular interest for the management orphaned, wounded, or abandoned bear cubs, giving knowledge of how they behave after their release.

There is much discussion about whether rehabilitated bears are likely to become problem bears. Therefore, data collected in this project is of paramount importance to this discussion. Of course we would prefer to be able to release orphaned bears in the wild again, rather than putting them in captivity for the rest of their lives. However, we must be absolutely certain that the rehabilitation process has no negative impact on their natural behaviour, increasing the chances of the released bear becoming a ‘problem bear’.

Between 2008 and 2013, a total of 19 bears have been equipped with GPS/GSM collars in order to assess the suitability of rehabilitated bears for reintroduction in the natural habitats. Ten of these bears were reared in the Romanian Rehabilitation Center (developed by Bear Again) and nine were wild caught individuals of two behavior categories: (1) wild behaving juveniles and (2) individuals with different degrees of habituation to anthropogenic food sources. The project revealed and proved that reintroduction of the rehabilitated bears into the wild is successful and without any threatening impact on the wild population. The survival rate of the rehabilitated tracked bears was around 50% (it is 55% considering all the rehabilitated bears). This is according with the survival rate of juvenile wild bears in the literature. One of the most important regulating factors can be considered the infanticide killing by adult male bears. An important threat is poaching.

Monitoring the bears and collar results is still ongoing.

2020 onwards
One of the basics of the rehabilitation technique is keeping the cubs in a system of several enclosures that offer 100% natural habitat. In this environment, the bears can develop their inborn instincts during a 1 – 1,5 years of rehab period. The facilities are surrounded by electrical fences. The electrical fence on one hand keeps the young bears inside the facilities and keeps intruder adult male bears or other predators out. The main aim of the support offered by Bears in Mind to this project has been directed towards improvement of the total electrical system of the Rehab Centre in order to keep the cubs safe, improve data communication and decrease the risk of depredation by males from outside. Next to that, the development of several remote cableway feeding systems have been sponsored. This allows the team from Bear Again to get the food to the bear cubs without being noticed. This way, these bears won’t associate food with people, an important lession for their future!

This project titled “Brown bear conservation and research program in a model area in Romania” is one of the longest continual projects supported by Bears in Mind, started in 2006. It has many topics, focusing on research on the bear population and conservation of bears in the Eastern Carpathians in Romania, with the aim to prevent bear-human conflicts. Damages caused by bears to livestock and crops are closely monitored. Research on denning behaviour and locations, knowledge about bear home ranges, movement and activity patterns, habitat use and food searching behaviour of the bears, is also carried out. Over the years, many bears have been fitted with radio collars to monitor their behaviour and gather as much data as possible.

Together with the help of local farmers, electric fences surrounding orchards and beehives are tested and placed. Milvus participates in public discussions on bears, organizes educational projects in schools, field excursions and develops educational material. They are mitigating plans for a new highway through prime bear habitat and have done extensive research on the impact on the population. Additionally, every year Milvus receives dozens of calls about orphaned (sometimes injured) bear cubs. After treatment by Vets4Wild (partner of Milvus), the cubs are sent to the rehabilitation centre run by Bear Again.

Improving the social acceptance of the species
Since 2018, Bears in Mind provides funding for a campaign to improve the acceptance of bears in Romania. Through a ten-episode mini-series, Milvus aimes to spread correct and factual information on bears, to try to counterbalance the omnipresent negative rhetoric (and frequent misinformation) in the Hungarian and Romanian massmedia. Each episode was realized in both Hungarian and Romanian languages, with both versions having English subtitles (these can be switched on in YouTube, CC button for Episode 1, and are embedded in each subsequent episode). Each episode was shared on Milvus Group’s own Facebook page, on YouTube, as well as on the Milvus Group webpage. For the shares on our Facebook page, we also had funding to advertise each episode. Ten episodes have been produced:

At the end of the 20th century, the main sources of income of local communities in rural Romania were mining, but also agriculture and forest industry. Following the restructuring of the Romanian economy, most of the mines were closed. Nowadays, former mining communities are looking at possibilities to generate alternative income and more pressure is put on the valuable forest resources. One of these communities is Grosii Tiblesului.

Grosii Tiblesului is a Romanian community with >2,200 inhabitants in the county of Maramures with a stunning landscape: hills with hay meadows, rivers meandering through the landscape and mountains covered with natural and pristine forests. It’s the closest community to the Tibles Mountains (highest peak is 1,848m). Forests are owned by the state and partly by the local community (Grosii Tiblesului Composesorat Association). They are managed by the Grosii Tiblesului Forest District. There is still a significant area of old-growth forest (about 4,000ha) and natural forests, being a valuable habitat for the brown bear, wolf, red deer, wild boar, lynx, marten, rare species of birds and plants. The old-growth forest area is the last one in the Maramures county.

In 2008 WWF-Romania started an awareness raising project for nature conservation in this community. This process is focused on the preservation of bear habitat. The local richness in cultural traditions and extraordinary natural resources and biodiversity, might very well transform Grosii Tiblesului in an ecotourism destination. Preservation of bear habitat and, in parallel developing income generating activities through ecotourism, will help focus local economics on nature conservation.

Activities in this project focused on the contribution to research activities on large carnivores and their habitat, to raise awareness and knowledge about bears in the community and to develop the first steps towards an attractive ecotourism programme linked to the bear, other wildlife as well as to the traditional coexistence of bears and local communities. Bears in Mind funded the project between 2008-2009 and one of the main aspects was the construction of a bear observation tower.