Last week in a surprise move that made headlines around the world, Romania outlawed all hunting of bears, wolves, lynx and large cats. Since joining the European Union in 2007, hunters had exploited a loophole in the law that permitted the taking of any animals that were deemed a threat to humans or property. Over the last decade, by fiddling facts and numbers, Romanian trophy hunting outfitters have taken the lives of thousands of animals. In a multi million euro industry and killing bonanza, hunters from all over the world paid fees of up to €10,000 per trophy (dead animal).
The Romanian government's move is a significant step in the right direction for Europe's apex species. The country hosts some of the continents last remaining virgin forests, strongholds for species facing increasing threats from habitat destruction caused by humans. Romania is one of the few countries in Europe with any significant large swaths of wilderness remaining and home to the majority (40%) of Europe's bears and wolves. Some estimate the bear population at approximately 4000 individuals and wolves at around 3000.
While the debate on rewilding and whether to reintroduce large predator species swings back and forth in Europe, Romania thrust itself into a leadership position by moving to increase protections for animal populations. Simply banning hunting however will not be the answer. The country's officials now face the challenge of helping hunters find a viable economic alternative that sustains predator populations and educates people as to the value of a live bear over a dead one.
In September 2016 I visited the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in the village of Zarnesti nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains of Romania. It is the largest such sanctuary in Europe. I'd heard about the sanctuary while researching wildlife populations in Europe and wanted to go see for myself the bears and the conditions they are kept in. The sanctuary was founded in 2005 by Cristina Lapis to house bears that had been rescued from dire situations of cruelty. Caged and kept for entertainment, bears were rescued from roadside stops, restaurants, circuses and homes. Currently 78 bears are housed at the sanctuary on 70 hectares of land. They are worlds away from their previous lives but because of their history unable to now cope in the wild. No animal should have to endure captivity and until we grow up morally ourselves we have to ensure that places like Libearty exist.
I often hear people cry that they feel helpless that their individual actions can't affect change or help in any way. I am a strong opponent of this mentality because I know through personal experience this is very far from the truth. So as we approach a season of heightened consumerism that eats world resources, destroys wildlife and their habitat and piles useless things disguised as gifts on one another, I emplore people to think a little deeper. Our wildlife needs our help more than Fisher Price, Mattel or Apple.
Let me give you an idea. Wouldn't adopting a bear in your child/friends name be a way more useful and enriching form of giving? I know that a child's mind would be enthralled knowing that somewhere in the world there was a big brown bear that he/she was helping to have a good life. If you'd like to help the Libearty Bear Sanctuary you can make a donation online or adopt a bear here: http://www.ampbears.ro/en/adopt-a-bear.
For anyone who adopts a bear because they saw this post, I will send an A3 size signed print (anywhere in the world for free) of Max the bear. You just have to email me a copy of the adoption certificate or receipt issued by the sanctuary. With this simple act you'll have affected in a deeply positive way the life of a beautiful bear. Go on and exercise your power to change the world.