Posts Tagged ‘Romanian brown bear’

Doug (Willie’s dad) has been in Romania all week.

Every time he goes, I ask:

“Did you see any bears?”

Why do I ask this question?

Well, Romania has the healthiest population of European brown bears anywhere.

Brown bears are virtually extinct in Western and Central Europe, and there are healthier population in Eastern Europe– but only in parts.

Romania is a bit different.

You see, Nikolai Ceausescu, Romania’s infamous communist dictator, had a penchant for bear shooting.

There were major, major programs were designed to promote the conservation of the species in Romania– all so Ceausescu could have some bears to shoot.

There was even a failed bear farming venture that would stock the forests with cubs every year.

None of the released bears survived. None.

After the fall of communism, Romania’s healthy bear population was used to reintroduce brown bears to other parts of Europe.

Plenty of bears can still be found in Romania’s forests, and I always ask Doug if he’s seen any.

Well, he’s seen one.

I have no idea where, but it’s in Romania. And it’s a European brown bear:





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Romania has a lot of brown bears.

Yes, that is the same species (Ursus arctos) that we North Americans call a grizzly, an Alaskan or coastal brown, or a Kodiak bear.

The species has (or rather had) a Holarctic distribution.

The European subspecies is known as the European brown bear, the Eurasian brown bear, or the common brown bear. It once had a range that extended throughout Europe, including Britain, where they lived until the tenth century.

Most brown bears of this subspecies live in Russia. The Eastern European populations were decimated ages ago.

However, Romania has a healthy population of them.

As this film points out, the reason for the health of Romania’s bear population is that Nicolae Ceausescu, an autocrat who even the other communists thought was a bit eccentric, loved to go bear hunting. He thought of himself as the Romanian communist Davy Crockett, and his gamekeepers were charged with keeping large numbers of targets for his guns.

There were even attempts to farm bears for Ceausescu to hunt. From 1974-1981, the state paid for cubs captured by peasants. The cubs would then be raised at a facility at the Rausor National Park.  There, it would be placed in a huge pen full of other cubs, where it was fed porridge (can’t make that one up!), potatoes, bread, carrots, and anything else the keepers could find.

 When they were yearlings, two toes would be removed. Combination of toes removed would be used as a marking and numeration system. The removal of two certain toes would represent the number for the cub.  The toes were removed without anesthetic, and my guess is that only the bravest gamekeepers performed this task. After two days, the cubs would be taken by heliocopter, where they were released into the wild.

Now, pen-raised bear cubs don’t do well in the wild. They don’t learn from their mothers what to eat or where to go for winter hibernation. Further, because these cubs were fed by people, many of them became nuisances.

And that’s why there is no evidence that any cubs raised at Rausor and then released ever became adults.  Because their toes were amputated, it was very easy to keep track of them in the forest. Their tracks told keepers who they were. None became adults.

However, because the bears were so valued by the dictator, they thrived in Romania. Today, most European countries that are trying to reintroduce brown bears or reinvigorate their vestigial brown bear populations are importing Romanian brown bears.

If you’d like to read more about Romania’s brown bears, check out David Quammen’s Monster of God.

BTW: I am back. I didn’t know how long this funk would last.

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