Criminals use the Netherlands to operate a network of illegal trade in traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) that contain endangered animals and plants. This is shown in a joint project and investigation by Dutch foundations SPOTS, IUCN NL, Bears in Mind and internationally-known Earth League International (an authority on criminal networks behind illegal wildlife trade). The findings of their investigation is shocking.
IUCN NL, stichting SPOTS, Bears in Mind and Earth League International (ELI) initiated a project to establish whether there is a market in the Netherlands for TCM containing illegally used and traded (wild) animal parts and, if so, how these (wild) animal parts are smuggled into the Netherlands. On behalf of these organizations ELI was commissioned to investigate this trade. The intelligence-led operations started in September 2021 and ended in December 2022 and aimed to compile and analyze information on the trafficking routes, the main destinations, modus operandi and the key drivers. These findings were shared with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) in 2023. They started a follow-up investigation, several warehouse searches were done, seizures made and an arrest took place. The investigation is still ongoing.
According to the latest TRAFFIC report on seizures of CITES-listed wildlife in the EU in 2021, the most frequently seized commodity type was medicinals (plant-and animal-derived medicinals which comprises medicines, extracts and cosmetics); accounting for 1,117 seizure records (27% of the total 2021 seizures). Animal-derived medicinals in 2021 accounted for 17% of the medicinals trade. Trade continued in medicinal products containing i.e. seahorse and sturgeon, with an increase in seizures of medicinal products involving rhino horn from < 1% in 2020 to 5% in 2021 (84 specimens). With 11% of the total seizures in CITES-listed wildlife in the EU, the Netherlands takes the third position after Germany (25%) and France (22%).
IUCN NL, stichting SPOTS, Bears in Mind and ELI also wish to raise awareness among politicians and the wider public in the Netherlands about the issues and impact this trade of illegal TCM has on specific species.
More details can be found in the full report here.
The famous Český Krumlov castle in the Czech Republic is a well-known UNESCO World Heritage site. One of its characterizing features can be noticed from the outside, as it is decorated with ostentatious coats of arms of the lords of the Rosenberg family, with the sign of the five-petalled rose against a silver background and bears as shield bearers. According to Rosenberg family legend, the Rosenbergs were related to the noble Italian family of Orsini. “Orsa” means bear in Italian, and it is this animal motif that the last rulers of Rosenberg in particular used to demonstrate their relationship with the house of Orsini. They used the motif in their coat of arms, which depicts two bears as shield bearers. This alleged relationship would endorse the antiquity of the House of Rosenberg and lead it to its roots in ancient Rome. The depiction of these bears gave birth to an ancient-old tradition of keeping bears at the castle.
Bears from Český Krumlov It is not known when the first bears were kept as so-called castle bears in former Bohemia (a former part of the Czech Republic). But it is known that the first bears were kept at Český Krumlov castle from the second half of the 16th century, dating back to the time of Wilhelm von Rosenberg. It is not known where the bears were housed in or near the castle at the time. It could not have been in the current moat, as it was not built until the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, around 1620. The first records of keeping bears in the moat date from 1707, there were four of them. Bears were kept in the moat continuously from the 1730s to the 1790s, although no animal could be found in the first half of the 19th century. It was not until 1857 that Karl zu Schwarzenberg of the Orlík family obtained some bears from Transylvania (Romania) for Johann Adolf II zu Schwarzenberg. Besides the fact that bears were born in Český Krumlov castle, the number of animals was maintained by purchasing them from zoos, as well as by donations from famous aristocrats. From 1887 the moat remained uninhabited for 20 years. In 1907, Prince Sigmund Schonburg-Waldenburg zu Schwarzenberg presented two bears named Ruschi and Ajax to Český Krumlov, brought from the grounds of Kynžvart castle. The first bear lived until 1930, the other until 1935. After that, the moat has always been inhabited by bears, until present times.
Bear Alert notifications In addition to bears in the moat of Český Krumlov, bears were and are also locked in moats at other castles. Over the years, Bears in Mind has received many reports via Bear Alert, usually by tourists visiting the castles. Around 2010, an attempt was made to draw attention to this phenomenon in the Czech Republic, but no solution was found. At present (2023) there are three brown bears in Český Krumlov, an Asiatic black bear at Konopiště castle, a brown bear at Náchod castle and two brown bears at Točník castle. The so-called medvědárium in Zámecký park in Kladno has two brown bears. In addition, there is a brown bear in the medvědárium in the city park of Beroun.
Visit and working towards a solution Since 2021, we have actively picked up again and started investigating the situation with the local Czech partner and our German colleagues from Foundation for Bears (Stiftung für Bären), how to end this phenomenon once and for all. Foundation for Bears started a petition early 2023 that was signed almost 150,000 times (end of 2023). In mid-June of 2023, the coalition traveled to the Czech Republic to view the situation at the various castles.
We have had conversations with the local partner, with the castle managers, the local NGO called ‘OBRAZ – Animal Defenders’ and most importantly: with the responsible person within the National Heritage Institute (NPU). This institute falls directly under the Ministry of Culture and is responsible for the management of Czech monuments and castles (and therefore also the bears!). We had a successful first meeting with Mr. Pešek, where we presented our organizations, presented and handed-over the petition, shared our views and proposed solutions (e.g. relocation of all bears to proper sanctuaries in Germany and The Netherlands). Local tradition is an important motivation in this, why there are still bears kept (legally) in this way, unlike the rest of Europe.
There will be no quick solution, but we will work in phases to end this tradition, in collaboration with the responsible institutions and authorities. Important in this regard is, among other things, conducting sound research such as visitor interviews at the various castles, to gain insight into the opinion and motivation of visitors regarding the captive bears. Both local Czech visitors and international tourists. In addition, developing alternative educational options in the castles at the places where the bears are now kept, in combination with a special website for visitors to the castle bears. This will be easily accessible via a QR code. We want to show the public what bears in captivity really need and what the future of these ‘castle bears’ could look like, with examples from the sanctuaries in Germany and of course our own Bear Forest.
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.
On this page, the latest rescue mission will be published.
Bear MILA On October 1st 2022, the Bears in Mind team traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to rescue 7-year-old bear MILA from her unfortunate predicament. For this rescue mission and professional transport we hired EKIPA, who have already transported bears for us from Ukraine, Bulgaria and Spain.
MILA spent the first 6 years of her life in a small dark cage in someone’s home, hidden from the outside world. We only tracked her down in 2021 and together with the responsible authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we ensured that the bear was eventually transferred to a temporary holding at Sarajevo Zoo. She has been here since March 2022 and during that time we sent extra funds to the zoo, to cover food and medical care and prepare her for the long journey to The Bear Forest in The Netherlands.
On Monday 3rd of October, the Bears in Mind and EKIPA teams started preparations early in the morning. The transport crate was placed and secured in front of the cage MILA was in, after which we tried to lure her into the crate with her favorite treats. But MILA wasn’t easy to catch, it turned out. After an hour of trying, it was decided to sedate her. After all, we had a tight deadline to meet: the vet’s service at the Bosnian border would end at 5:00 PM and we had to obtain signed documents from him before that time in order to cross the border with bear, into the EU. Strict controls were expected at the external border of the EU, so everything had to be 100% okay.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. After leaving Sarajevo Zoo, the team and bear had to go to the local customs office with the bear to prepare various other papers. This took many hours longer than expected. The subsequent ‘race to the border’ was to no avail, the veterinarian on duty had gone home and no one could help us anymore. Only at 8 AM next morning, on World Animal Day, did the border office open again and after a delay of more than 13 hours we were able to continue our journey again.
On the other side of the border, a major new challenge soon unfolded. Due to an error by Sarajevo Zoo in a document, the Croatian customs agent could not see the papers in the system and the Croatian border inspector / vet could not sign the EU travel documents. It took another 7 hours before we could get back on the road! Fortunately, MILA was calm all this time. The long road ahead of us, through Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and The Netherlands, continued without any problems. Early in the morning, on Wednesday the 5th of October, we arrived at Ouwehands Zoo and the Bear Forest. MILA was unloaded smoothly by the team of bear keepers and curiously inspected her new (temporary) environment in the quarantine of the Bear Forest. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! MILA will be examined and quarantined for the next month, before her release into her new forever home.
UPDATE July 2023: MILA is doing great so far. She is really enjoying the space she gained in the forest, and is very curious about all the other residents living there and the new natural surroundings.
This project started in 2020, focusing on the local population of Brown bears in the Dagestan mountains. Emphasis was laid on occurence and distribution of bears in Tsunta and Tlarata districts, south-western part of the Republic of Dagestan, confined to the northern slopes of the Great Caucasus Ridge. Human-Bear Conflict assessments were carried out and between 2020-2021 a total of 153 cases were registered. Mainly involved depredation on sheep. A year later, the total number increased to 171 cases.
One of the objectives is involving local people in the bear conservation program. The team was able to attract 18 locals, assisting mainly in anti-poaching activities. They were trained by gamekeepers of three local reserves. They collected information on possible poachers in villages of the study area. For nine months, anti-poaching teams detained 35 poachers who had no licenses to hunt and collected 59 illegal traps. 9 criminal and 41 administrative cases were opened, 11 fines issued and 14 arms confiscated. A year later, between 2021-2022, the anti-poaching teams arrested 75 poachers who were involved in illegal hunting activities. 15 criminal and 136 administrative cases were opened, 27 fines issued and 30 arms were confiscated.
Awareness raising is an important component of this project. The team use posters, guidebooks, school visits, leaflets, pictorial guides and community meetings to explain what they are doing and why. The main focus of these activities is to provide information about bears and other carnivore activities, their role in nature and possible competition with domestic livestock and accurate identification of killed livestock, so that people are able to distinguish depredation from other cause of loss, and can identify the species concerned so that the team can help them implement the most relevant methods to prevent further losses. In 2020, the team rolled-out the education program for 1,400 people, including; 800 school boys & girls, 600 adults. Involving of local people in the project is key objective of the project! Between 2021-2022, 1,700 people were reached in the education program; 1,000 school kids and 700 adults.
Bears in Mind will support this project into 2023.
Low public awareness of the Asiatic black bear (ABB) in Russia leads to ignorance of this species and threats to its population from government agencies, the media, as well as a negative attitude towards bears from the local residents, which perceives them (along with other large carnivores) as a problem and threat.
This project supported by Bears in Mind since 2021, aims to raise the level of awareness of the public, local residents, authorities and journalists about the the ABB and the current population status; to debunk the negative image about these animals; to form an information agenda aimed at protecting this species and its habitat in Russia, promoting coexistence of bears and people.
All photos by Sergey Kolchin
The target species for this project, the Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) (HBB) is also the cause of escalating conflicts with humans in the Trans-Himalayan part (Ladkah) of their range in Indian Himalaya. They depredate on livestock, damage crops, and often enter villages for food. The magnitude of livestock depredation ranged from 0.6% in Kashmir to 10-40% in Ladakh. In recent years (2016-2017), HBBs were responsible for >70% of total livestock loss to carnivores in Kargil, Ladakh. The reasons for this spike in HBB depredation on livestock is unknown. These negative interactions not only dent the local livelihood and economies, but also generate an overall resentful attitude towards the species, which sometimes manifests in retaliatory killing of bears, as reported in one such incidence in the Drass region of Ladakh, where a sub-adult bear was stone-pelted and cornered to a cliff face, ending in a fall and death of that bear.
Effective measures for conflict avoidance and resolution must include social factors, including community education and stewardship. Education and awareness building programs are one of the prescribed activities in community-targeted actions for conflict management, as suggested by the IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group’s Human-bear Conflict Expert Team. These activities help in sensitizing people to know more about their surroundings including bear ecology, develop critical thinking by increasing their knowledge, and may help in changing their attitude and behaviour. Animosity to wildlife has been shown to dilute when people are made aware of the actions to avoid and tackle wildlife-conflict situations.
The specific objectives of this project, funded by Bears in Mind since 2021 and implemented by the Snow Leopard Conservancy – India Trust, are:
Community education to motivate sustainable use of alpine pastures and medicinal plant collection through engaging activities inspired and designed by using game theory.
Building dedicated stewardship of local communities for human-bear conflict avoidance and mitigation by inspiring volunteer citizens from local communities to be the ‘Bear Guardians’.
In Ecuador, the Andean bear is listed as an endangered species, threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation and human-bear conflicts. Bears use private lands, where they can be killed due to conflicts with people and their cattle. As such, private landowners and local communities must be involved in bear conservation in order to connect fragmented and potentially hazardous landscapes for bears.
This Bears in Mind funded project, by researchers from the USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito), focuses on the conservation of a previously unstudied population of Andean bears in the highlands of northern Ecuador where recently, in a first camera trap bear monitoring, around 25 individuals where identified, and bear-cattle conflicts, probably the principal threat to bear conservation in the territory. The project will implement different mitigation activities in farms and areas (5) that had report conflicts in the past, and also identified through a previous evaluation process about human perceptions and presence of bears in the territory. These activities will include different ways on improving cattle management, from electric fencing, to provide safe and permanent water supply for cattle, in order to reduce their movements.
The main aim of the project that Bears in Mind is supporting since 2020, is to assess the population dynamics, developed management plan and implementation for the conservation of Asiatic Black Bear (ABB) and its habitat in district of Chitral, Northern Pakistan. Under the project “Population estimation and conservation of Asiatic Black Bear in potential in Hindukush Region Chitral Pakistan” the population field survey was conducted and based on the survey population distribution map for Chitral was developed and shared with other stakeholders. The market was assessed for the first time to get an overview on bear parts trade in the region. Stakeholders were consulted for ABB conservation. Human Bear Conflicts were assessed and the possible mitigation measures were also documented. For effective conservation of the ABB and its habitat, a management plan was jointly developed with the help of the local communities and other stakeholders. Activities were designed to reduce Human Bear Conflicts.
In Chitral district, the ABB remains the least studied and researched species, especially in the past three decades. Due to its unique geo-climatic conditions and ecology, Chitral district – more particularly the southern Chitral – provides ideal habitat for ABB to live in. However, due to lack of proper research, the potential of the region in terms of ABB, is unexplored.
Over the past two years, the Mountain Society for Research & Development Chitral has been implementing the project activities. The focus has been on:
Improved management of ABB habitat which integrates sustainable forest & land management and compatible conservation practice.
Participatory conservation to reduce Human Bear Conflicts and improve livelihoods of local communities.
Promote awareness and sensitization among the local communities and other stakeholders for the conservation of ABB (and associated biodiversity conservation).
Bears in Mind will continue the financial support in 2023 with the emphasis on empowering Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) as tools for ABB conservation in Chitral, Pakistan.
With a special focus on brown bears (Ursus arctos) and other bear species, and in collaboration with various UK zoological collections, this project by the University of Salford in the UK, aims to test the problem-solving and object-manipulation abilities of various carnivoran species. Whilst important from an ex-situ conservation standpoint – in terms of enrichment and improving bear welfare – the project also has a rigorous theoretical grounding.
Results from the trials will be measured against various social, ecological and life history factors, to help elucidate whether large brains have evolved to facilitate skills within a specific domain such as sociality (the “social brain” hypothesis) or whether they have evolved to produce a more domain-general skill set (the “cognitive buffer” hypothesis). Through testing of the “social brain” and “cognitive buffer” hypotheses, the results from this project will go toward confirming the origins of cognition, and highlighting the cognitive capacity of carnivoran, specifically bear, species. For bears we foresee conservation pay-offs resulting from public perception changes that have been previously afforded to other “intelligent” taxa.
Here is a link to the scientific article by Helen Chambers.
Bears in Mind funded part of the research.
(c) Header photo bear with puzzle box: Kathryn Page