Orchard raiding

Causes of Human Bear Conflict (HBC)

Orchards offer an easily accessible food source Orchards offer an easily accessible food source © Ozgun Emre Can

Expansion of human land use means bears often live in close proximity human farms and agricultural practices. For rural families, fruit production is both a livelihood and a source of subsistence food. Bears are known to raid melon, apple, pear, plum and cherry orchards as well as fruit-bearing shrub species, such as grapes, black berries, raspberries and blue berries.

Orchards are attractive to wild bears, offering an easily accessible food source with a high energy reward. This is especially the case in years when natural food resources are in short supply. Bears can then develop a habit of feeding in this way.

Animal welfare implications

Wild bears can become accustomed to feeding from an agricultural food source. If this causes humans to become intolerant to their 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.

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

Read more about how HBC affects bears >>

WSPA’s project: Rize, Erzurum and Artvin, Turkey

Meeting with members of the local community Meeting with members of the local community
© Ozgun Emre Can

In summary: The economic dependence of individuals and even entire villages on fruit crops, and the fact that they are an important part of the local diet, means that reactions to conflict incidents with bears can be particularly intense.

In response to crop raiding in north Turkey and inhumane, ineffective and unsustainable efforts to prevent it, WSPA worked with Nature Society for Turkey (Doğa Derneği) to implement an effective holistic project. Alongside Nature Society for Turkey, the project had several other key stakeholders whose commitment was necessary: central and local wildlife authorities, relevant local authorities and the affected local community.

After an evaluation period in which WSPA and Nature Society for Turkey met with local communities to discuss and develop the project, a selection of complementary non-lethal approaches were used to create a sustainable and holistic response to the HBC problem:

Human-focused interventions

Education and awareness: A number of public awareness activities were undertaken within the framework of the project. These were aimed at both the agricultural communities affected by the conflict and the wider Turkish public. The project partners:

  • created and put up signs around the project sites warning people about the presence of electric fences (see ‘physical barriers’ below)
  • gave local farmers living around the project site ‘okey game’ boards bearing bear protection messages; they used these playing together and with friends as is tradition in Turkey
  • ensured the project was mentioned across a range of media, and reports were made in the local, national and international press
  • facilitated television exposure: the project was the subject of two hour-long documentaries, one of which was produced by national channel TRT. These were aired on several channels in 2008 and the project also appeared in a BBC documentary on Turkey.

Avoiding negative encounters: The awareness work (above) also built tolerance for living alongside bears through an understanding of bear behaviour and ecology. Following straight-forward principles for living, working, and recreating safely in bear habitat has helped people avoid unnecessary encounters with bears that could result in injury.

Bear-focused interventions

Electric fence Electric fencing can help to prevent bears from gaining access to orchards © Ozgun Emre Can

Physical barriers: Electric fencing was used to prevent bears raiding the orchard and destroying the trees they climb to reach the fruits; six orchards were fenced. The experience of an electric shock scares bears and, over time, they associate the fenced area with shocks and avoid it. The danger is carefully signposted and the shock level designed not to cause human or animal injury.

Removal of conflict animals: In order to prepare the local wildlife managers to deal with ‘conflict bears’, government wildlife authorities were trained in the capture, collar and release of bears. The bears were fitted GPS collars; these emit radio signals that allow the team to monitor collared bear activity. This data will help us better understand the movements of conflict bears in the region to help monitor and prevent potential future conflicts.

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

This project demonstrates how international and national animal welfare organisations can work together to share expertise and enable local stakeholders to effectively address a Human Bear Conflict (HBC) issue. Another important aspect of the project is that it is easily replicable for any community that sees benefit in it.

In this case, a long-standing conflict situation has been reduced using a holistic approach that includes preventive measures aimed at changes in both human and bear behaviours. The approach is long-term: public awareness work increases tolerance for co-existence with bears, and Nature Society for Turkey monitors the fences on an ongoing basis to ensure practical measures remain effective.

The conflict reduction work in Artvin and the other sites can show Turkey’s wildlife authorities and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that appropriate, effective and humane measures allow local people to take responsibility for protecting their crops. WSPA and our partners provided the expertise, but it is the commitment of the authorities and the local stakeholders which will enable the project to work long-term.

With the commitment of relevant stakeholders – including government authorities, the local community and others – the achievement of a humane, long-term HBC reduction project can ripple outwards to create further ‘bear aware’ communities in Turkey.