Bin raiding

Causes of Human Bear Conflict (HBC)

Many people live in close proximity to natural bear habitat
Many people live in close proximity to natural bear habitat

© Ramon Jurj

The expansion of towns and cities means bears often live in closer proximity to human rubbish. Food soiled containers, food packaging and edible leftovers in rubbish bins form an attractive and easily-available food source. It is also a predictable one, as bins are often poorly kept.

Additionally, sometimes the attraction of approaching a wild animal can lead to uninformed members of the community and/or tourists feeding wild bears directly. This further habituates them to humans, increasing their dependence on unnatural food sources.

Animal welfare implications

Deliberate feeding risks bear and human safety
Deliberate feeding risks bear and human safety

If wild bears become accustomed to feeding from a human-generated food source, causing humans to fear for their safety and become intolerant of bear presence and activity, the animals are considered ‘conflict bears’. Hostile and/or ill informed human reactions towards bears can then ensue, resulting in the animal’s injury, death or a lifetime in captivity. These ad-hoc responses rarely achieve long-term solutions.

Deliberate feeding risks human and bear safety and exacerbates the problem, encouraging bears to forage in even closer proximity to settlements and dampening their natural fear of humans. Bear welfare can also be compromised when they eat indigestible or toxic products found in rubbish.

Bears that are not involved in the conflict can also be affected – governments may raise local hunting quotas based on the false assumption that an increase in ‘bear nuisance’ activity means there are unsustainable numbers of bears in the wild.

Read more about how HBC affects bears >>

WSPA’s project: Racadau, Romania

In summary: In response to bin raiding in Racadau, WSPA worked with the Carpathian Wildlife Foundation throughout 2006 to implement a holistic project that fully involved wildlife specialists and a variety of other stakeholders – community police, local schools, waste management authorities and local residents.

The project was conducted over approximately 40,000 hectares including waste management areas, urban areas, wilderness areas and bear relocation areas. After an evaluation period a selection of complementary non-lethal approaches were used to create a sustainable and holistic response to the HBC problem:

Human-focused interventions

Information panel in area bordering forest
Information panel in area bordering forest
© Ramon Jurj

Removal of attractants: Legislation and penalties for non-compliance were used to encourage changes to human behaviour, resulting in a lesser volume of attractive rubbish being left outside.

Education and awareness: A synchronised public awareness campaign targeted local communities affected by the bin raiding problem:

  • information boards situated in key areas of Racadau bordered by forest warned people about the dangers of leaving rubbish out and feeding bears
  • brochures, leaflets and information boards in urban areas explained new waste management procedures and the fines for non-compliance
  • all local schools received educational lectures and held competitions on bear awareness and welfare
  • considerable media coverage helped to transform the local people's attitudes toward bears by cultivating understanding and respect.

Bear-focused interventions

A bear-proof bin
A bear-proof bin
© Ramon Jurj

Physical barriers: Installing bear-proof bins prevented bears from gaining access to human rubbish and from becoming future conflict bears.

Removal of conflict animals: A total of 27 bears were relocated to remote areas of forest approximately 80 kilometres from Racadau; a veterinary officer was present throughout the procedure. The relocated bears’ activity was monitored through the use of collars emitting radio signals.

Habitat management: Six feeding stations were installed at specifically chosen forest locations. These prevented ‘nuisance bears’ returning to the Racadau area by allowing them to become accustomed to their new territory. Once this had been assured feeding was gradually phased out.

Both human and bear-focused methods are explored in Principles of Human Bear Conflict reduction (WSPA, 2009), a document prepared by wildlife experts (including IUCN specialists) and social scientists to inform governments and specialised non-government organisations. Read more and download document >>

Results

Through close collaboration with our partners, WSPA provided realistic and humane alternatives to deal with a persistent Human Bear Conflict (HBC) situation. This conflict reduction process did not involve the injury, persecution or a lifetime captivity of any bear.

The education and awareness work has significantly changed human attitudes towards the bears; local government, police, waste management companies, media and local residents combined their efforts to reduce the HBC problem humanely.

However, to maintain success, a sustained effort must be applied to all of the activities outlined in this case study by all stakeholders. For example, changes in environmental legislation following WSPA’s intervention have resulted in the bear-proof bins being replaced with non-bear proof recycling bins, presenting a new set of challenges to HBC management in Racadau.