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.
Although Nepal has successful achievements in wildlife conservation, bears are never listed as a conservation priority species. The project team from Biodiversity Conservation Society Nepal (BIOCOSNEPAL) found bear presence in Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) up to 3,582m elevation and a population of 60 individuals in an area of 525 Km2. Villagers reported maximum crop damage by bears, especially maize. In the diet analysis, 84% of fecal samples confined agriculture crops in rainy season. The team also noticed poisoning, snaring, gunshots and killing of bears because of crop damage. Every year, 10-15 local people are injured by Asiatic black bears. The crop damage and human casualties have increased negative perceptions of local communities towards bears in general, which have led to retaliatory killing. Local communities and school students are not aware of bear ecology and behavior. Bears are not listed in the National Wildlife Damage Compensation guideline for the allocation of government support. Efforts are needed to stir up government authorities, community leaders and conservation related organizations to lead bear conservation in Nepal.
The project will engage existing local institutions for bear conservation by organizing substantial conservation education awareness programs, bear conservation workshops and promotions of bear-based tourism in the conflict prone sites of ACA. This project will assure community involvements, local budget leverage and government interventions for bear conservation in Nepal.
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.
In India, habitat fragmentation and destruction is one of the main threats to bears, others being poaching for bile extraction (this has started in India according to a recent report), poaching for meat (rampant in some states) and human/animal conflict within or near the forest.
India is very progressive when it comes to bear education. Bears in Mind has supported the educational work of the local NGO Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO). Their education project reaches schools, zoos and museums. Back in the day, the problems with dancing bears in India are considerable. Several thousands of cubs, usually sloth bears, were been taken from their mothers and trained to be dancing bears. ZOO managed to make people aware of the suffering that is caused by this ancient, yet cruel tradition. Between 2002-2012 teaching packages were made with financial support of Bears in Mind. These packages consisted of all sorts of educational games, t-shirts, stickers and posters. More importantly, information about the way brown bears, sloth bears, Asiatic black bears and Sun bears in India were threatened, was included. India is the only country with four different bear species and it is therefore very important to protect them all.
ZOO Outreach Organization has been working with Bears in Mind for 10 years to improve the welfare of bears in India as well as their conservation in the wild. This has been done entirely with education, starting with a conservation education programme aimed at two groups; the visiting public (or organisations which educate them) and the zoo directors of zoos that have bears in their collection. 6,000 bear packets have been printed and ordered by 59 organisation and 8,000 posters have been printed and ordered by 56 different organizations.
During a workshop on the reintroduction of wild bears in 2000, participants agreed that more data has to be gathered to study the long-term effects, before it can be determinded whether or not reintroducing (orphaned) bears is beneficial to the species in the wild. The workshop was a cooperation betweeen Bears in Mind and the Bear Taxon Advisory Group (Bear TAG) of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).
Reintroduction in Italy
In the mountains in the Trentino region, wild bears from Slovenia are being introduced. Slovenia has a healthy bear population. Another possibility of reintroduction of bears is the rehabilitation of orphaned bears. In such a programme orphaned cubs, whose mother has been shot or died in an accident, are taken care of in a special rehabilitation centre. They are raised and then taught to become wild bears again. If the cubs are grown and can fend for themselves, they are released back into the wild. There is presently not enough data to make claims about the long-term effects of these reintroductions. People are still unsure as to what happens to the bears when they grow older. Time will provide the necessary data.
The first workshop ‘Brown Bear Management in Slovakia’ was held in July 2011. Hunters, foresters, nature conservationists, government representatives, farmers and beekeepers, as well as representatives from the police and the university attended the workshop. Dr. Alistair Bath skilfully led the different parties with conflicting interests towards finding solutions and reaching agreement. Dr. Bath is an expert in the area of Human Dimensions in Wildlife Management. All participants, including the Department for Environment, expressed the wish to participate in a second workshop. This workshop was held in October of the same year and was equally successful. A subsequent workshop was organised in 2012, and a conceptual management plan for the brown bear in Slovakia was drawn.
Several years later the State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic has begun preparing management plan-type documents for the bear / wolf / lynx / wildcat. Undoubtedly, the groundwork for the bear plan was layed down by Dr. Bath and SWS.
Bear Emergency Team (BET) A ‘BET’ swings into action as soon as a bear is sighted near areas inhabited by humans. Acting swiftly is beneficial to both humans and bears. The members of a BET are appointed by the Department for Environment. Bears in Mind has provided funds in order to organise a Bear Emergency Team training session. The training is provided by Dr. Djuro Huber, a Croatian bear expert who has been collaborating with Bears in Mind for quite some time. The team also strives to help avoid conflict involving bears and assists the government with registration of all bear-related incidents. This also includes traffic accidents involving bears.
In East Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sun bear habitat is rapidly shrinking due to forest conversion and fires for palm oil monoculture development. As a result of this Sun bears are now commonly held as pets and conflict with humans occurs when bears enter communities or feed on crops. Despite this, the Balikpapan municipality decided in 2001 to make the Sun bear its mascot. This has led to a better protection of the last bit of primal forest where bears live (the Sungai Wain forest), and a heightened awareness among the locals. The sanctuary is surrounded by an elevated bridge. From this bridge visitors can see the bears play, climb, and dig. Local guides are trained to give visitors information.
Bears in Mind has funded the construction of the center, development and printing of a number of awareness materials like design and production of a new sun bear activity booklet, re-printing of Sun Bear booklet for distribution among visitors, production of variety of Sun bear promotional materials and improved visitor education through guide training.
Currently, 2022-2023, Bears in Mind has committed itself to the much needed repairs / maintenance to visitor boardwalk, the Sun bear holding area and the Sun bear enclosure.
Threats to the sun bear Visitors at the KWPLH Education Centre can access information through painted panels, paintings, bear statues, information panels and interactive displays. All the education material is being made by local artists. Local goverment has been very positive since the start of the project, and they contribute in the daily management costs. The Sun bear or Malayan bear is a protected species in Indonesia, but law enforcement is not very strict. Because large parts of the forest are still turned into plantations or cut down for agriculture, many bears loose their habitat. In search for food they sometimes come too close to human settements. Cubs are taken from the wild and are often kept as a pet, until they grow too large (and dangerous) to maintain and end their life in misery in a small cage or are sold for meat or other parts.
Bears in Mind continues to help sanctuaries for the rehoming of abused and mistreated bears and supports education programs on the subject. For the rescue and rehabilitation (and permanent rehoming) of the bears in SE Asia, Bears in Mind supports Animals Asia. In Vietnam a rescue centre was established (Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary) where Bears in Mind funded an education project for visitors of the centre to experience. In the China Bear Rescue Centre various so-called ‘bear dens’ were co-financed.
The latest contribution to Animals Asia was done in 2022, when Bears in Mind funded the salary for a year of two local staff members at the new-to-be-build sanctuary in Vietnam. This new sanctuary in Bach Ma National Park will become the home for the last 300+ bears from Vietnamese bear farms.
Bears in Mind has supported various other projects in this region (see links to the projects below) and continues to do so by helping to set up an educational centre. After completion, the carnivore educational centre (which was also built with Bears in Mind support) will be in full use. Not only school children, but also students and tourists visit the centre to learn about Bulgarian wildlife which features information on the carnivores. A small shop has been opened and visitors can enjoy coffee and a snack in the small café. On the second floor an interactive exhibition is set up, highlighting examples of conflicts between humans and carnivores and their possible solutions. In addition, a room is converted to make it suitable for workshops and (small) conferences.
Near the educational centre the bear enclosure for former circusbear Medo and bear Buya (from Kormisosh) was built. At the beginning of August 2019 these bears have been relocated to a new home in Northern Italy.
The primary goal of the educational project funded by Bears in Mind (2011-2012) was to increase awareness among school children and students about the situation in which captive bears in Thailand live. Staff members of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) gave presentations at schools and universities on the abuse and mistreatment of bears. These presentations were supplemented with educational material in the form of a booklet (both in English and in Thai) describing the threat to and the ways to protect bears in Southeast Asia. The booklet provided examples of bears, which have been saved by the WFFT. It also further explains the welfare problems of bears living in captivity and provided general information about wild bears in Thailand.
The sanctuary Although mostly elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, snakes and orang-utans are used for human entertainment in Thailand, bears are often kept locked up in small cages in so-called zoos. Moreover, they are also kept illegally as pets. Small bear cubs look very cute when they are still young, however as they grow bigger they become aggressive, unmanageable and thus dangerous to people. Most bear owners end up dropping their ‘pets’ off at a temple or an animal sanctuary. Since its initiation, WFFT has rescued more than 1,500 animals, primarily monkeys (macaques, gibbons and langurs), tigers and bears (Asiatic black bears and Sun bears).