The largest brown bear in Romania might have been killed in March by a prince from Austria, Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein, the Romanian environmental protection NGO, Agent Green, reports. The prince had been granted a permit to shoot a female bear that had caused damage in a village, but instead he killed one of the largest male species, living in the heart of the forest. Bear hunting was banned in Romania in 2016, as the brown bear is protected by an EU directive, but the shooting of problematic bears can be permitted by the Romanian Ministry of Environmental Protection.
According to ziare.ro, international press has covered the case of Arthur, a 17-year-old large bear who was living in Romania and possibly killed by Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein. According to BBC, the prince received a permit to shoot a female bear; however, he may have chosen a different animal to kill. Female bears are smaller than males, and Agent Green believes that the prince deliberately shot Arthur, also called the king of the bears, because of his hunting trophy value of 592.8 points out of a possible maximum of 600.
The bear hunting permit, issued by the Romanian Ministry of Environmental Protection, was available for four days – between March 12 and 16, 2021 – and allowed the prince to shoot a female bear with cubs near Ozsdola (Ojdula), a village in Kovászna (Covasna County). This bear had been causing problems in the region, which is why its shooting was permitted. However, the prince killed the 17-year-old male bear, for which he paid EUR 7,000. Arthur, based on his size, is considered a Golden trophy, worth EUR 20,000.
“In reality, the prince did not kill the problem bear but a male who lived deep in the woods and had never come close to localities. The bear named Arthur has been observed for many years by the Agent Green ranger in the area and was known as a wild specimen not accustomed to man’s presence and the food sources he offered. Its habitat was the Natura 2000 protected area Ojtoz-Ozsdola (Oituz-Ojdula) ROSCI0130,” Agent Green pointed out in a press release.
Agent Green also explained that the brown bear is a species strictly protected by EU law and the Berne Convention; any exceptions that occur do so only in extreme cases, on a case-by-case basis, and after a thorough assessment of the situation. The NGO further said that bear hunting is the last resort when alternatives (including relocation) have failed and the problem bear is endangering human lives and households. The European Commission has approved a budget for member states to compensate immediately and fairly any farmers who suffer damage on their own land or in areas where they have a contract to practice agriculture, the NGO adds. However, any compensation has thus far not been received by farmers in Romania.
As BBC reported, they have tried to contact the prince, but with no luck. English media reached out to Gabriel Păun, the president of Agent Green, who said that they do not have any personal problem with the prince, but killing a bear, especially by shooting it, should be avoided at all costs.
The office of the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein told AFP news agency that they do not have any details about this “private and personal issue.” But it did stress that nature “has been one of the fundamental concerns of the House and is a central element of the family’s commitment to ecological and social sustainability.”
Ann-Kathrin Freunde, the representative of the Austrian environmental protection group VGT, told BBC, as far as they were aware, the shooting of Arthur produced the highest score ever recorded. “It is a really great trophy to get one of these iconic animals – it’s like a good wine,” Freunde told BBC. “The bears face multiple threats that endanger their survival: habitat degradation, climate change, and human persecution. The Ministry of Environmental Protection must address the causes that led to the bear-man conflict and not the effects. The extraction of large males destroys the population and can lead to genetic inbreeding. It is unknown how many bears there really are, and any derogation granted is dangerous. Trophy hunting must be outlawed. Otherwise, conflicts will escalate, and the species will be endangered, as has happened in most of Europe,” the press release of Agent Green quotes Ann-Kathrin Freude.
“Romania is privileged to have been able to provide a habitat for this emblematic species located at the top of the trophy pyramid of this temperate climate zone. There is a need for an ambitious national plan that addresses threats to the species and invests in coexistence and co-adaptation measures. Subsequently, the country will be able to promote itself as the capital of Europe’s biodiversity. The potential for ecotourism is still unmatched,” the Agent Green press release quotes Gabriel Păun, a specialist in ecology and ecotourism.
“When the lethal solution is the only one left, then a gendarme and an environmental commissioner should be present. Shooting should be avoided, with priority given to tranquilization, followed by euthanasia. To discourage trophy hunters, all dead bears should be cremated after DNA samples have been taken. The same was done with the ivory of the elephants in order to save that species,” concluded Păun.
An online petition was started asking the Ministry of Environmental Protection to stop trophy bear hunting in the country. Octavian Berceanu, the manager of Romania’s National Environmental Guard protection agency, said that they have started an investigation and that the institution will probably turn to other research bodies. The manager also stressed that the documents are not very clear; they allow for the shooting of a bear, and it is mentioned only once that the bear in question is a female with cubs. However, the issue might turn into a criminal case.
Environment minister Barna Tánczos told Digi24 that it is “extremely complicated” to examine whether the bear killed by the prince is the one in the permit. He also said that an investigation was started to determine what happened in this case.
Title image: The bear named Arthur has been observed for many years by the Agent Green ranger in the area and was known as a wild specimen not accustomed to man’s presence and the food sources he offered. Photos: Agent Green