Centre for Biodiversity Conservation & Research
Human-Carnivore Conflict (HCC) is commonplace in Georgia, but it is especially severe in and around protected areas, in which case local people’s negative attitudes towards carnivores spills over into their antagonism to nature conservation per se, undermining the effectiveness of the affected protected area. Livestock farmers often complain about the fact that Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (BKNP) administration does not allow guns into the park, while they fail to offer alternative ways to protect their livestock from carnivores (bears and wolfs), or to compensate for the losses. According NACRES experience compensation schemes, as well as improved livestock protection/husbandry have the great potential to mitigate HCC and increase PA effectiveness.
The goal of this project supported by Bears in Mind is to mitigate human-carnivore conflict in BKNP through active engagement with local players and the introduction of innovative community-based insurance/compensation schemes. This will be reached by:
studying the HCC in BKNP to assess losses, underlying reasons etc. Furthermore, select effective livestock protection measures and support their implementation.
test a locally adapted insurance/compensation scheme with the support of relevant experts.
establishing a livestock loss insurance/compensation, run by or with a strong involvement of local actors/communities.
NACRES team carried out two comprehensive studies to find out more about the HCC scale and root causes in Borjomi-Kharagauli protected areas.
In the first study they found that among the farmers, livestock was the most important and profitable husbandry type of activity and any depredation cause significant financial loss among the locals. 94% of the respondents mentioned that they suffered from wild animals and named wolf as the most problematic animals (95% of interviewee) and named bear as second nuisance animal (66%). The most of the respondents think that wild animal attacks are more acute in alpine pastures (n=43), but substantial numbers said that problem is equal in alpine meadows and village surroundings (n=25). The majority of the local population thinks that carnivore damage increased in recent years. They blame protected areas and protection regime that allows to increase carnivore numbers. 78% of respondents received damage from predators in 2021 and 67% reported the damage as significant. Most of the respondents believe that the existing means of protection are ineffective and they are interested in introducing alternative, effective protection mechanisms.
According to second study they found that the financial loss is not as high as previously mentioned by the residents although it stays significant. On the summer pastures total damage was 25,580 GEL (equivalent of about € 8,960). Livestock protection measures are weak on the summer pastures. Farmers often do not herd cattle, and dogs only protect livestock near summer camps and often use solar powered lights to deter predators.
NACRES installed 4 electric fences around beehives and disseminated 8 Foxlights devices. Due to complicated regulation to clear electronic devices at customs, they experienced huge a delay in receiving the equipment. When the electric fence equipment arrived, all the farmers already moved back to their villages and almost nobody stayed on summer camps. NACRES will further test the equipment in spring 2023.
The problem of keeping bears in captivity has a two decades-long history in Georgia. The animals are kept predominantly for local and international tourists’ attraction in restaurants, petrol stations, monasteries, along and nearby the central highway that crosses the country horizontally (Batumi-Dedoplistskaro, approx. 800 km). The issue is linked to two major problems: contribution to wild population decline and inhumane treatment of animals. Many organizations (including Bears in Mind, SEED, NACRES, Tbilisi Zoo, some voluntary shelters, government of Georgia etc.) have been dealing with this problem since the collapse of Soviet Union. Remarkable success was achieved through the implementation of different concrete projects; however, the problem still exists (although not to the devastating degrees as it was observed in the 90s) and bears (predominantly cubs) still occur in captivity every spring. Most of them are still kept under deplorable conditions. In parallel, concerned organizations, at this moment, do not have credible monitoring data and it is not exactly known how many bears there are in (illegal) captivity throughout Georgia. Moreover, effective legislation of Georgia prescribes fines to an owner, confiscation of a bear and moving it to a shelter. Nevertheless, the limited capacity of shelters (including the national zoo) in conjunction to the low awareness of the population leads the government (also the judicial system) to be inactive and “close its eyes” to the problem.
Most of the bears in captivity have been registered in a central database. Several surveys on bears in captivity have been initiated over the years, where information about the bears and their owners was collected, following a specially prepared questionnaire. The bears’ owners received advice on improvement of food, living conditions, health and general care for bears. NACRES staff also checked whether the owner had a permit to keep the bear. This was very often not the case. Curiously, the owners did not use the bears to gain money from them. It is thought that the caged bears are kept as a status symbol. In 2007 three poorly kept bears that lived in a closed-down zoo near Tbilisi were taken to the Bear Forest in the Netherlands. This rescue operation generated a lot of nationwide media attention towards the problem, which put the captive bear issue back on the agenda. With the survey data, the next step was to implement the Captive Bear Action Plan. Furthermore, the development of a shelter for confiscated or rescued bears should be developed. Unfortunately, many of our joint efforts have thus far shown little success. Mostly because of the priorities within the government.
Since 2019, Bears in Mind cooperates with SEED in an awareness initiative, hoping to find lasting solutions for the problems related to captive bears in Georgia.
The study area of this project is focused on the arid ecosystem in the extreme southeastern part of the country. Historically, bears in the eastern part of Georgia used migration routes from the Great Caucasus (Lagodekhi Reserve) to the Lori Plateau (Vashlovani National Park). The population in Vashlovani was estimated at approximately 10 individuals and since the region between Lori Plateau and the Great Caucasus has a strong human presence, the migration route might be extremely limited or even no longer functional. This suggestion needs to be investigated by means of radio-telemetry studies. This is important because if there is no genetic exchange between the arid ecosystem and the Great Caucasus range, then the population of the Lori Plateau must be considered as critically endangered, which requires special conservation measures.
Status Individual bears will be identified by photo-trapping in the study area and their daily activity will be studied. The home ranges of the bears will be defined through intensive monitoring by radio-tracking method. GPS locations will be taken from any bear signs (footprints, scat, marks, dug-up ground, dens and the location of individual bears). All data will be analyzed in GIS. Home ranges will be identified as well as overlapping areas between individual territories. The photo trapping has been very successful and different bears and other animals were photographed. NACRES have data from 3,700 trap/days and captured 65 bear pictures. They also collected approximately 354 pictures of other species, such as: wolf, leopard, lynx, jungle cat, wild boar, porcupine, wild cat, hare, badger and even eagle. Lynx, jungle cat and porcupine photos were most interesting because they were first time spotted on the photo in Georgia. Also two bears were radio-collared. One was unfortunately poached and the second one was collard during the summer of 2008.
NACRES is continually monitoring bears and other carnivores in Georgia through their conservation programs.