2018 Award Finalists

Co-existing with bears in the 21st century: Difficulties and achievements

The district of Kastoria, in Greece, is of strategic importance for the brown bear, since it functions as a communication corridor between the bear sub-populations in Greece (the southernmost in Europe) and the Western Balkans. It also demonstrates a number of typical problems concerning the coexistence of bears and humans.

Firstly, there is the issue of the 72km branch of the E45 Motorway. Just six months after opening the new highway, five major traffic accidents occurred involving bears and cars. Secondly, an increasing number of bears in the area are visiting settlements during winter and early spring, when natural food sources are scarce, which increases the risk of bear-human conflicts and causes fear and anxiety amongst the locals.

CALLISTO, an environmental NGO, has a long presence in the area. Since 2009 it has been working in partnership with local authorities, the association of farming cooperatives and the Development Agency of Kastoria, to address these challenges and to improve conditions for bear - human coexistence.

Thanks to the partnership, the expertise and the dedication of the people involved, as well as the support of the EU LIFE fund, bear fatalities have been drastically reduced to 2-3 a year from the initial number of 8-9 and local tolerance towards the animals has increased considerably.

The actions that brought about to these impressive results include:

  • The installation of specially reinforced three-meter tall fences along the motorway, the mounting of 22 road signs designed to alert drivers to the presence of bears and the placing of wildlife reflectors to prevent collisions with vehicles.
  • The deployment of a successful strategy to reduce conflicts with rural communities which has, amongst others, involved the use of shepherd dogs and the establishment of network of guard dog owners to facilitate breeding rather then purchasing puppies outside the region; the mounting of 32 electric fences to protect beehives and orchards; the installation of innovative ‘bear-proof’ waste-bins.
  • The establishment of a dedicated Bear Emergency Response Team that can react immediately if a bear causes an accident. The Response Team also implements awareness raising actions and organises Crisis Management Committees at national and regional level.

Once people became aware of the project actions and their effects, public opinion changed significantly. The drastic reduction in traffic accidents caused by collisions with bears in the road network as well as other conservation and awareness raising actions, have all increased the tolerance of the locals towards bears. The project completion survey demonstrated that 76% of the respondents considered the use of prevention measures effective; 32% stated that they now actively participated in efforts to protect bears.