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.
Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) habitat is being degraded and fragmented in the Indian sub-continent. More than 85% of the Sloth bear population occurs in India, which is facing multiple threats such as habitat fragmentation, degradation and human-sloth bear conflict. While protected Sloth bear habitats are studied well, Sloth bear ranges in unprotected area have a lack of information and research. It is very important to understand the status and movement of Sloth bears in non-protected areas for conservation actions.
Previous studies also reveal that most of the Sloth bear attacks are prevailing in the non-protected areas and in the villages on the fringes of forests. The present research, carried out by WCB Lab, Department of Life Sciences, Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University, aims to study habitat quality, movement of Sloth bear and Human-Bear Conflicts in non-protected areas of Gujarat state of western India. It is felt that the findings of this research study would be lighten up status of Sloth bear and its habitat in Gujarat and would be also helpful in preparing conservation and management plans for such non-protected forest areas of the state, focusing on Sloth bear conservation and mitigating Human-Bear Conflicts.
Bears in Mind financially supports the research by WCB Lab in India since 2022.
This project, supported by Bears in Mind since 2022, aims to assess the population and conservation status of the Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) in Calipuy National Reserve in the La Libertad Region of Peru, in partnership with SERNANP-RNC (National Parks Service). The area is situated at the southern-most end of the Peruvian western Andes and consists of dry montane forest and coastal desert habitat, a unique ecosystem occupied by the species with little known about its populations and their habitat use. As a result, these populations are not recognised in the IUCN’s species range. With frequent bear sightings by rangers and locals in Calipuy, the population potentially represents the most southern species population of the western Andes and one of the last links to the Central Andean populations.
By training rangers in the use of camera traps, and with the help of their local knowledge, the team from Instituto de Investigación en Ecología y Conservación (IIECCO) aims to estimate the occupancy of the Andean bear along environmental and anthropogenic gradients within the reserve as well as describe their activity patterns. This information will enable the team to understand how these bears use the unique habitat and inform management plans specifically for coastal bear populations.
Photo copyright with: IIECCO, Calipuy National Reserve – SERNANP, NatureSpy, Idea Wild, and The Rolex Explorers Club Grant
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.
The Brown bear (Ursus arctos) is one of the threatened large carnivore species in Armenia considered “Vulnerable” in the Red Data Book of Armenia. The species is under pressure because of habitat loss and degradation, caused by the anthropogenic persistent pressure across the country, illegal hunting, poaching and trapping. Furthermore, bear cubs are regularly captured from the wild and kept as pets. There is a lack of recent scientific data on population size, trends, distribution and behavior of Brown bears across the country. However, the research conducted in 2013 in Vayots dzor region suggests that a significant population of bears occurs in the region.
Since 2016, the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) initiated a wild fruit tree nursery in the Caucasus Nature Reserve (CWR), focusing on reducing Human-Wildlife Conflict in Ararat and Vayots dzor regions by planting site-specific wild fruit trees. This provides nutrition from small songbirds to large mammals like bears. Since the project started, the FPWC planted more than 350,000 wild fruit trees aiming to restore the degraded lands, providing habitat for breeding, foraging and resting. Also, the land restoration programme target to tackle and minimize the climate change impact in the country.
The aim of the project supported by Bears in Mind since 2022, is to reduce and mitigate human-bear conflict in the Vayots dzor region by forming a “Rapid Response Group” to gather comprehensive data on the bear attacks and establishing site-specific wild fruit orchards and plantations to keep away the nuisance bears from the rural settlements and providing an alternative source of food and nutrition for bears and other wildlife in the long-term. Moreover, in the short term, the FPWC aims to establish a supplemental feeding programme for the bears feeding them with seasonal fruits and vegetables bought from the villagers of vulnerable communities.
Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) and Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are not only threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting for body parts, but also captured to supply bear bile extraction facilities. The efforts by Bears in Mind partner Free the Bears (FTB) in Southeast Asia allowed the rescue of almost 400 bears, although options for rescued bears remain mostly limited to lifelong care in sanctuaries. Most rescued bears arriving in FTB’s sanctuaries in the region are under 3 years of age, and as such the ongoing costs of caring for rescued bears throughout their lifespan (often 30+ years) are significant. Although the establishment of a programme for rehabilitation and release may require a substantial initial investment, the outcomes of a successful programme (in addition to potential welfare and conservation benefits of developing successful protocols for the release of Asian bear species) are necessary steps towards bear conservation and can contribute to our understanding of key ecological factors of these species.
The initial plan within this project was to start with the development of a bear release programme in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, constructing an isolation and rewilding facility and the development of essential activities to ensure a successful implementation. Unfortunately, due to a change in legislation in Vietnam, building in the national park (even if it benefits vulnerable species like bears) is prohibited at this time. Since this project is part of a regional effort with activities occurring concurrently in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the focus has been diverted to Cambodia for now.
To date, very few releases of rescued bears have been attempted in the SE Asian region, and those that have taken place previously have had limited results due to restrictions in terms of numbers of individuals, site location and methodology applied. We hope to be able to contribute to the efforts and success by FTB in this region!
Himalayan brown bears (HBBs) were common species in all mountain regions of Kyrgyzstan. However, due to anthropogenic factors in areas of habitat, the number was reduced, and in some places, the species disappeared. Locally called as aiu and used in many place names such Aiu-Bulak (spring of bear), Aiu-Tör (highland pasture of bear), or Aiu-Üngkür (cave of bear), indicating their much wider geographic presence in the past. Traditionally brown bears associated with the forest landscapes, however in conditions of the Central Asian region they occur in highland steppes as well. For instance, there is evidence of their presence in syrt zones, in alpine meadows of Khan-Tengiri mountains, Ak-Sai and Arpa highland valleys in Kyrgyzstan.
The goal of this research project by the International Mountain Institute, International University of Kyrgyzstan (supported by Bears in Mind since 2022), is to better understand and update the data on present distribution status, ecology and seasonal food habits of the HBBs. The main study site will be the Naryn State Nature Reserve, which is an important component of the habitat of nationally endangered brown bears, globally vulnerable snow leopards (Panthera uncia), Himalayan wolves and wild ungulate species such as argali, ibex, maral and roe deer.