Protest in Szeklerland: Are the lives of bears or humans more important?

People in several Szekler towns – including Csíkszereda (Miercurea-Ciuc in Romanian), Gyergyószentmiklós (Gheorgheni) and Sepsiszentgyörgy (Sfântu Gheorghe) – took to the streets on Tuesday to emphasize the great danger bears represent in their region, protest for the immediate shooting of aggressive bears, and demand proper regulations for bear population management and the protection of human life. According to the original plans, the citizens wanted to demonstrate in Bucharest against the current big game legislation, but the authorities from the capital did not approve it due to the coronavirus regulations, the Hungarian newspaper in Szeklerland Hargita Népe reports.

The demonstration in Csíkszereda was organized by the Rural Development Association of Hargita (Harghita) County Council. A couple dozen people gathered in the city center, including farmers, presidents of civil associations, and leaders of several settlements.

Protest in the city center of Csíkszereda. Photo: hargita Népe/László F. Csaba

“The fact that so many of us have gathered here today indicates that this issue is important to us. Not just civil or pseudo civil organizations should be the ones who decide such issues. […] It is important for our voices to be heard. It is important that our opinion be represented […] so people could find out that we in Hargita County are the first ones who are directly affected by this problem,” Csongor László, president of the Rural Development Association, said at the demonstration, adding that human life should always be prioritized.

István Bíró, the agricultural advisor in Siménfalva (Șimonești), said that in 2017 people reported damage caused by the big game 40 times, but in reality, the number of attacks was much higher. In the last four years, the number of reports has decreased, but the damage caused by bears has not, the municipality adviser emphasized. In István Bíró’s opinion, people are not reporting damage because of bureaucracy, so he asked everyone affected to report any damage so the authorities would be able to see the real problem. He also added that the situation in their village is so serious that people are afraid to go to their own gardens because of the regular visits by bears.

Man attacked by a bear showed his injuries at the protest. Photo: Hargita Népe/László F. Csaba

“Damage caused by bears happen every day; they are roaming day and night. We cannot grow fruit outside of our backyard, because it will be destroyed. We protect our grain and corn with electric fences […] The situation is devastating,” Gyula Pap Benczés, a farmer from Siménfalva, told maszol.ro.

Livelihoods destroyed and endangered by bears

Tibor Kolozsvári, a Hargita County representative and resident of Tusnádfürdő – the town probably most affected by the bear issue – said that bear attacks not only represent a great trauma but also cause serious monetary damage. He added that his 15-year-old son and his friends were also attacked by a bear with three cubs, but they were luckily able to get away. In the spa town, the large animals are destroying graves, breaking into shops and represent a great risk to people’s livelihoods, Kolozsvári said.

“Everyone, including me, living in Tusnádfürdő or in the southern part of the Csík (Ciuc) Basin is affected by the bears,” the county representative said. Kolozsvári added that contrary to popular belief, forests have increased steadily over the past 30 years; it is not true that areas for bears to live in have decreased. On the contrary, due to ideal conditions, bears have overpopulated, which represents a danger for the species and for humans as well.

József Benke, the president of the Land Ownership Association in Zetelaka (Zetea), read the petition of the protestors, in which people asked for a reduction in the time until intervention after bear attacks and the re-introduction of the preventive shooting quotas. The organizers of the protest placed 58 empty seats on Freedom Square in Csíkszereda, representing the victims of bear attacks and floated 58 red balloons with the message: The life of a human is worth more than the life of a bear.

58 seats and balloons for the 58 victims of bear attacks. Photo: Hargita Népe/László F. Csaba

The people of Gyergyó region also protested on Tuesday in Gyergyószentmiklós (Gheorgheni). One veterinarian, Dr. József Gál, read the petition of the demonstrators, stressing the seriousness of this problem. According to the vet, just this year, 16 cows and bulls have been killed by bears. The latest attack happened the night before the protest, with a 900-kilogram bull falling victim to the wild animal. The people have complained that in the last year, the situation has become very serious and bear attacks have become commonplace; however, compensations “arrive” too late.

Csaba Borboly: Decisions must strengthen public safety

Csaba Borboly, the president of the Hargita County Council, stressed the importance of consolidating public safety at the online forum for the EU’s PlanUp Project on Monday. Borboly stated that this should be done by taking into account the specific environmental characteristics of bears. PlanUp monitors national energy and climate change plans in five EU Member States: Spain, Italy, Poland, Romania and Hungary, Hargita Népe reports.

“The European Green Pact must focus on a number of factors, such as the protection of wild habitats and large carnivores, as well as the coexistence problems that our county is currently facing. We have created a document in which the Committee of the Regions has commented on our proposals for improving coexistence with conflicting species. In areas where both bears and humans live, conflicts often occur. These cases have multiplied recently, the amount of damage caused by wild animals has increased dramatically, as has the number of attacks against humans,” Csaba Borboly said in his speech.

A 54-year-old man was attacked just a couple of days ago in Zágon. He saved his life by throwing an ax in the mouth of the wild animal. Photo: maszol.ro

He stressed that given the conditions, any decisions made must strengthen public safety while also taking into account the special environmental characteristics of bears.

A working group established at the Hargita County Council and the EU forum has created a series of proposals for optimizing the bear population, protecting the habitat, developing a compensation system, and ensuring greater autonomy at the local level in decision-making related to conflict management, information and sustainable tourism, Hargita Népe reports.

In Kovászna County 1,700 bears are in the forests, while statistics claim only 700 do

Hargita County was not the only one that protested against bear regulations; the residents of Kovászna County also marched in the streets, maszol.ro reports. People who think that the situation has become uncontrollable gathered on the main square of Sepsiszentgyörgy (Sfântu Gheorghe) asking the authorities to ensure the protection of human life and property in the counties where the bear population has multiplied. Protestors stressed that there are 1,700 bears in the forests of Kovászna County, while the statistics say only 700 bears live there.

The people also stressed that they support Minister of Environmental Protection Barna Tánczos, who is trying to improve the situation but is heavily criticized by environmental protection associations. Tánczos announced just a week ago that the ministry is working on a draft law that would allow for the immediate removal of dangerous bears by shooting or transferring the wild animals within a maximum of 24 hours.

Protest in Sepsiszentgyörgy. Photo: Maszol.ro/Kocsis B. János

“Bears not only damage the agricultural areas and decimate the livestock; bear attacks that endanger human life have become more frequent. Just a few days ago, an incident occurred in Zágon (Zagon) and then in Sepsiszentgyörgy, the consequences of which cannot yet be determined,” the petition of the protestors underlined.

“Between January 2016 and June 2021, people have called the 112 emergency number because of bear attacks 6,400 times, and the number of requests for assistance has increased significantly in the last two years. Over the last five years, there have been 121 cases when bears have injured humans. There has been no bear population management in Romania for five years, and the application of the intervention quota is slow and hard, as a result of which the balance has been upset and the bear population has increased in this area,” the petition says. The protestors are also asking for the re-introduction of responsible big game management through control interventions, to relocate bears raging in populated areas, and if this is not possible, to shoot problematic animals. They also asked for immediate intervention when human lives are at stake and for the state to compensate for damage caused by bears and to speed up lagging payments.

When the life of humans is in danger, talking about compensation is pointless

“We agree that the protection of the species must continue to be ensured, but this must not be done at the expense of human life. In Romania, the constitution guarantees the right to life, the right to physical and mental integrity. Protection against bear attacks is not insured on any level, as no institution – municipalities, government offices, law enforcement – has the means to intervene,” the protestors claimed.

“I support the municipalities, the ministry and Minister Barna Tánczos in everything to urgently find a long-term solution that benefits humans,” István Ráduly, the prefect of Kovászna County, said at the protest after accepting the petition. As the government representative said, this situation is out of control; the protection of wild animals must not come at the cost of human lives.

István Ráduly, the prefect of Kovászna County supports urgently finding a long-term solution. Photo: Maszol.ro/Kocsis B. János

As István Ráduly said, just this month, between June 7 and 28, people reported the presence of a bear 78 times in 29 settlements. Most often (11 times), bears visited Ozsdola (Ojdula) and Előpatak (Vâlcele). According to submitted reports, bears have killed nine cows, two sheep, and 212 chickens and destroyed eight beehives just this month. In addition, bears regularly visit the courtyard of the hospital in Kovászna, hotels in Tündérvölgy (Valea Zânelor) and Bálványosfürdő (Băile Bálványos), a restaurant in Mikóújfalu (Micfalău) and a camping site in Bodzaforduló (Întorsura Buzăului).

“The Kovászna County Prefecture has forwarded the compensation claims of citizens and companies to the Ministry of the Environment in four packages, and they are confident that this will be paid in accordance with the legal procedure. In addition, however, a solution must be found to the bear issue because here human lives are endangered every day, so it is pointless to talk about compensation,” István Ráduly emphasized.

Title image: Bears not only damage agricultural areas and decimate the livestock; bear attacks that endanger human life have become more frequent. Photo: Facebook/Szin János Medvepásztor

Author: Orsi Sarány