'Siin me oleme': Culling bears will not help with encroachment issues

'Siin me oleme' presenter Mirjam Mõttus with a bear-vandalized beehive.
'Siin me oleme' presenter Mirjam Mõttus with a bear-vandalized beehive. Source: ERR

The record number of European brown bears now living in Estonia has caused some friction at the interface of ursine and human activity, ETV people show 'Siin me oleme' reported Monday night, with a surge in beehive raids, damaged property and even face-to-face encounters reported.

While some huntsmen are baying for blood, a more measured response might be to learn to coexist with the animals, an educated woman expert told the show.

The current estimate of brown bears within Estonia is over 1,000,* the highest for the past century, "Siin me oleme", presented by Mirjam Mõttus, reported.

Made Uus, who lives in the village of Naelavere, near Alatskivi, close to the shores of Peipsi järv (Lake Peipus), even bought a shotgun to scare away bears. "I have two options," Uss said, relating how she encountered two bear cubs with their mother, while walking the dog.

While Uus said she was able to phone her husband, she and mother bear became engaged in a staring contest, at about a 60-meter distance.

"I had subconsciously a great fear of death, and I knew I shouldn't start running. Once I had assessed the situation, I realized that I had nowhere to go to," she said, adding she was only able to remain calm in the knowledge that help was on its way.

In the event, the adult bear turned and ran off after her two cubs just before Uus' husband arrived on the scene.

"I don't think that this means all bears must be culled right away, but it is an abnormal situation for to run into a large animal between two villages in this way," she continued.

Janno Rodendau, who lives in Albu, Järva County, says he has seen bears attack the beehives he keeps in the yard at his farm, and says and is worried about his children's safety, as the bears get bolder.

"The bear and her three cubs came out of the woods right where my children were having fun," he said.

This year, more than 290 cases of bear damage have been registered with the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet), over 260 of these relating to beehive-looting, "Siin me oleme" reported.

Much larger animals including sheep and cattle have also been the subject of attack, while orchards and silage have also been plundered.

"Everyone suffers because of these bears," says Peeter Järvamägi, hunt leader in Kiltsi, Lääne-Viru County, told the show.

The current system of bear hunting permits, whereby the Environmental Board distributes between counties and where they are released on a first-come-first-serve basis, is not working, he said. "We haven't been able get bear hunting permits for four years, hence why we have a growing number of animals."

The board issued 86 such permits this year, with these fulfilled by mid-September.

However, Egle Tammeleht, a researcher at the University of Tartu who has been studying bears for 20 years and defended her doctoral dissertation on this topic, says that culling will be of little help in combating the damage.

She said: "No one knows if a bear that has been killed was responsible for any damage at all," adding that study including surveillance cameras proves this.

"It' makes about as much sense as if, when a bad person kills or steals from someone, to then arrest any passer-by on the street and punish them for it; how does that solve the problem?" she continued, adding that the large number of bears should in fact be taken as a great compliment to the clean and lush nature of Estonia. 

"That simply means we've still got it," she said, adding that the public should now simply get used to bears, while protecting their property from them better.

Readers with Estonian, or even those without, can view "Siin Me Oleme" Mondays at 8 p.m. Estonian time. To save having to do that, the video with the bears is below.

*Curiously, Estonia's southern neighbor, Latvia, has been bear-less for around a century.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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