An increase in the number of sightings of Eurasian Brown Bears close to, or inside, population centers in Estonia has prompted a hunters' lobby group to call for greater numbers of culls. However, the 'increase' may be just a perception resulting from the increased use in smartphones to take video of wildlife when spotted, one expert says.
The latest ursine incident reported in Estonia came early on Monday morning, when a bear was filmed running along a main road by the driver of a car following it
Huntsman Viljar Ilves told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Monday that: "If we look year-by-year, the volume of bear culling has not been increased especially in recent years. At the same time, people are seeing more bears, forest workers are seeing more bears.
"In the last three-to-four years, I have encountered more bears in the forest than, for example, in the previous 25-30 years combined," Ilves went on.
Monday's spotting saw a bear crossing a major intersection in Estonia's second city, which, Ilves said, could have presented a hazard had there been more than one bear, and on a smaller street.
One expert councils against pursuing a bear or wild animal in a vehicle as the Tartu video depicts.
Egle Tammeleht, a researcher at the University of Tartu and representative of NGO Eesti Suurkiskjad, an organization which aims to inform and educate the public on Estonia's three largest carnivores, Eurasian Brown Bears, European Wolves and Eurasian Lynxes, rejected the sighting as evidence of overpopulation.
She said: "Bears had been entering the city even when there weren't as many of them as are claimed to be now. Bears have come into Tartu in the past."
"The fact that so many people now have a video camera at their fingertips plays a role here. It wasn't so easy before, to take a movie or photo of everything you see," she added.
Tammeleht said that looking at the video, the animal appeared to be a younger bear, meaning it was only finding its feet in terms of territory, and may have become disoriented when entering a human population center.
Due to the expansion of urban or suburban areas in Estonia and building pressures on the outskirts and adjacent areas of Estonia's two largest cities, Tallinn and Tartu, in particular, more wildlife may get lost on city streets in future, she said.
"This can be anticipated so that the public are aware that if they hear there might be a bear somewhere in this area, they don't immediately head out to look for it in search of a photo or video," adding that she does not agree that, even if numbers had surged, an increase in hunting was needed.
August's culling season saw 90 permits issued by the Environmental Board, with seven allocated to Tartu County.
Hunters say this quota was reached within a week, and so could be higher.
A recent court ruling overturned a hiatus on hunting bears.
Other recent sightings of Eurasian Brown Bears include a mother and her four cubs in Ida-Viru County, as well as a bear on Hiiumaa, thought to have swum to the island either from the mainland, or from the adjacent island of Saaremaa.
The original AK slot (in Estonian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte