Where wolves, bears and people live together
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:
“People and wolves can live together,” says Carpathian Large
Carnivore Project director Christoph Promberger. “What we have found
is that carnivores can cope extremely well with people.”
Promberger has spent the past 10 years studying large
carnivores in the southern Carpathian mountains and teaching
livestock herders and beekeepers to use nonlethal techniques to
control predation. Since 1995 Promberger and the CLCP have also
introduced eco-tourism to a region which previously economically
benefited from wildlife only through hunting by the Communist ruling
elite–and not benefiting much, at that.
Promberger is now building the Carpathian Large Carnivore
Center, to further establish the idea that the Piatra Craiului
National Park region in the southern Carpathians can become to Europe
what the Yellowstone National Park region is to the U.S.–both a
critical wildlife habitat and the chief economic engine in an area
with few non-extractive industries.
The Carpathian mountains are home to one third of Europe’s
large carnivores west of Russia. There are 3,500 wolves in Romania,
a nation the size of Michigan. This is almost as many wolves as
exist in the entire U.S. There are 5,500 brown bears, nearly five
times as many as there are of their cousins, the grizzlies, in the
U.S. Lower 48. Lynx are seen as often in the southern Carpathians as
Though Romania includes some of the most unspoiled wild
beauty in Europe, with dense forest covering more than a quarter of
the nation, it suffers from some of the worst environmental
degradation as well. Logging, mining, and agriculture have been
the foundations of the Romanian economy for as long as the nation has
existed. Poverty, domination by more powerful neighbors, and
political corruption drove the use and abuse of Romanian resources
almost without restraint during most of the 20th century.
CLCP guide Dan Marin says the present Romanian attitude
towards the environment is a remnant of Communism.
“People are not ignorant about it, but have neither a
negative nor positive attitude toward it. They are indifferent,”
That cold indifference is starting to thaw, thanks in part
to pressures from the European Union. The efforts of the CLCP and
similar organizations in promoting eco-tourism are beginning to show
Romanians that they can benefit from protecting wild habitat.
Eco-tourism was so little known in Romania just seven years
ago, when the CLCP began, that the Minister of Tourism did not even
know the meaning of the term.
After getting that straightened away, the CLCP faced the
difficulty of building up eco-tourism in Zarnesti, a community
well-situated as a base for wildlife observation, but lacking any
tourism infrastructure to speak of. Previously a center of armament
making, Zarnesti was literally closed off from the world during the
regime of deposed dictator Nicolai Ceausescu.
The program rapidly developed, underwritten by the World
Wildlife Fund, the German outdoor apparel maker Jack Wolfskin, the
European Nature Trust, and the Liz Claiborne Foundation. Within
just a few years Promberger and associates had encouraged the opening
of dozens of family-owned lodgings, a horseback tourism center,
and development of a souvenir trade, creating jobs for nearly 200
This involved cultural cognitive dissonance.
“For several years we tried to help build a horse riding
center in Zarnesti,” Promberger recalled in the 2002 CLCP annual
report, “which proved difficult due to the high initial investment
costs, and due to a different understanding of animal welfare among
western horse-riding travel agencies (and their clients) and the
local perception of horses and the conditions that were provided for
them. After three unsuccessful attempts, and almost giving up, we
finally found the right person to operate the business, who built
nice stables consistent with western standards for the horses.”
The riding concession is now a success.
The new Carpathian Large Carnivore Center is to be built on
the other side of town, Promberger says, “so that people don’t
immediately flood the environmentally sensitive areas.” Construction
is to start this spring, with a target completion date in 2005. The
facility will stretch over 30 hectares (about 75 acres), and will
include a lecture hall, classrooms, and spacious enclosures for
bears, wolves, lynx , and examples of their prey, to be obtained
from zoos and game farms.
There will also be exhibition halls describing the large carnivores
and their habitat. One room representing the conflicts between bears
and humans will show video of the famous bears of Racadau.
In the forest surrounding the suburb of Racadau near the city of
Brasov live bears who regularly scrounge for food out of the
neighborhood garbage bins. This bear show became so well known that
tourists regularly gathered outside in the street, waiting for the
bears to appear.
Former CLCP staff member Annette Mertens in early 2003 counted 37
bears visiting the bins, up from 20 in 1998 when she began studying
them. Among the bears were cubs and their potentially temperamental
mothers. Some bears became so accustomed to humans that they woud
allow themselves to be touched and even take food from people’s
hands. There was even one report of a bear sleeping on an old
mattress inside an apartment building.
After analyzing the situation and the obvious dangers caused by the
bears’ close contact with humans, the CLCP submitted a plan to the
city hall for the construction of bear proof garbage bins, which
would ultimately persuade the bears to look elsewhere for food. The
plan was rejected and instead a bear hunt was organized.
Mertens left the CLCP to pursue a Ph.d. in Italy.
Promberger today shrugs off his disappointment. He and the
remaining CLCP team members have become all too accustomed to
clashing with local governments and their sometimes illogical and
One of their biggest conflicts developed in 2000 when the
regional government approved plans for a quarry on the outskirts of
Piatra Craiuli National Park. Quarry operations would have produced
a stream of 40-ton trucks racing through the Zarnesti valley every
four minutes. Dust, noise, and blasting could have polluted and
destroyed the natural reserves, ruining the eco-tourism program.
“The quarry has disappeared from our list of problems but our
problems have not ended,” says Marin.
The CLCP is now concerned about proliferating weekend
cottages in the valley bordering the national park. The narrow
valley is an important wintering area for red deer and the passage of
the large carnivores who follow them, as well as for shepherds,
their livestock, and hikers.
“The cottages will be devastating to tourism,” says
Promberger. “Now when a visitor leaves Zarnesti and goes into the
forest and mountains, he first experiences this beautiful valley.
But if this construction continues he will leave Zarnesti and come
upon another village of super luxury bungalows, and the scenery will
be spoiled. In the last 10 years we have seen that probably about
half of these valleys in Romania have been destroyed. We said to the
town hall, ‘If you take conservation seriously, than save this
valley. Keep it as your capital.'”
The CLCP did not form in 1993 to become involved in
politics–but this has become an inevitable outgrowth of studies
begun initially just to understand how wolves and humans interact.
For centuries interaction consisted mainly of conflict
between sheep-killing wolves and shepherds.
Shepherd Gheorghe Corca, for example, in 30 years of
sharing wolf habitat, has clubbed wolves and bears more times than
he can count on the seven fingers of his two hands.
The CLCP learned in surveying 30 shepherds’ camps that they
had recently lost 79 sheep and lambs to large carnivores, primarily
To prevent wolf predation on sheep, the CLCP introduced
electric fencing. It worked well enough that the Romanian government
purchased another 10 electric fences for the use of local shepherds,
and continues working with the CLCP to improve the co-existence of
wolves and shepherds.
Promberger feels relatively happy about the successes of the
CLCP, as it metamorphizes from field research into becoming a
“When I first came here, a lot of people felt like they were
living in the Middle Ages because there were so many wolves running
around. They felt they had to change this in order to join the west.
I said ‘No! You have to keep them here.’ There was no sense of
pride about this. Now people see wolves as a heritage that western
countries have lost.”
[More about CLCP can be found at <www.clcp.ro>.]