Carpathian beekeeper and bears
Location: Mykulychyn – Ukraine,
Story by: Mykhailo Tomashevsky
Mykhailo Tomashevsky keeps his beehives in the highlands of the Ukrainian Carpathians. Once a bear came to the apiary and started to damage hives and bees, and the loss was huge.
However, the owner is not angry with the animal and does not want to harm it. He chose a peaceful way and installed an electric fence to protect the apiary. Sometimes the bear visits the apiary but no longer dares to break Mykhailo’s property.
REVENGE FOR BROKEN HIVES
On average, up to 10 bear attacks on apiaries occur in the Carpathians per year. Some beekeepers estimate their losses in thousands of euros because, together with the hives, they lose bees and their honey harvest. But not all of them can “forgive” the bear for the damage. After all, for someone beekeeping is almost the only source of income. Beekeepers and shepherds in the Carpathians sometimes dare to kill the bear as a pest. Such revenge killing is the second reason after poaching, which has reduced the number of bears in the region.
This can be stopped if the owners start using preventive protection tools – electric fences, which is common practice in Europe. The current that passes through a fence does not harm the animals, but effectively scares them away and prevents carnivores from attacking the property or livestock. Bears have to return to the forest and look for food there.
However, the cost of such tools is high and is unaffordable for many farmers who need them. That is why WWF Ukraine provides fences for free use within the LIFE EuroLargeCarnivores project. Owners who have encountered a bear attack on their apiaries or livestock, or noticed its presence nearby can get an electric fence to use. An agreement is concluded with the owner, which also prohibits the use of the fence for purposes other than improving coexistence. Beekeepers also receive instructions on how to properly install the tool.
“Over the past 5 years, WWF-Ukraine has provided Carpathian beekeepers with 10 sets of electric fences to protect their apiaries from bears. Three of them – during the last year,
– Bohdan Vykhor, Wildlife manager at WWF Ukraine.
– But the damage from the bear’s attack on the apiary must be compensated by the state. This mechanism is extremely necessary for owners who have lost property that can cost thousands of euros. Beekeeping may be for them almost the only source of income in the mountains. It is also necessary to preserve the bear, which is included in the Red Data Book of Ukraine and treated as on the edge of extinction species for Ukraine”.
A BEEKEEPER WHO FOUND A COMPROMISE
A striking example of peaceful coexistence with a bear in one area is the story of Mykhailo Tomashevsky. For 15 years he has been setting up his apiary high in the mountains in the Nikovata tract near the Mykulychyn village. His apiary is surrounded by forests and meadows, where wild grasses and berries grow, which make his honey special.
But bears also live in this wilderness. Beekeeper Mykhailo met the carnivore in the wild several times, but all these meetings took place at a distance. However, two years ago the animal came to his apiary, broke the hives, and caused damage to about 35 thousand hryvnias (about 1,100 euros). And 15 thousand hryvnias (about 500 euros) of these, is the cost of bees. For Mikhailo, as for most other local beekeepers, this is quite a lot of money.
The beekeeper tried different ways to protect the hives from the bear – bright lamps and other scary objects that he installed in his apiary. But it didn’t help. The bear kept coming and doing damage. He found the solution after attending a conference organized by WWF Ukraine in Yaremche. There he learned about prevention measures such as the electric fence and how it can be used.
The beekeeper took the opportunity to get an electric fence and installed it in his apiary. He later noticed that the animal was still trying to reach the hives. But, apparently, received an unpleasant electric shock, and escaped into the woods. Sometimes the bear continues to appear near his apiary, but no longer dares to get honey. After all, hives are well protected now and the animal remembers this unpleasant experience.
Electric Fences for Apiaries
Previous research and practice show that the use of electric fences significantly limits the access of bears to apiaries, waste dumps, and anthropogenic food (Strorer et al. 1938, Davies and Rockwell 1986, Latour and Hagen 1993, Huygens and Hayashi 1999, Clarc et al. 2005). The effectiveness of electric fences was rated at 70-100% by these authors. For beekeepers, they are a possibility to protect their bees and honey. The electric shepherds used here were equipped with special solar panels which significantly prolonged the operation of their batteries, which was absolutely crucial. Additionally, the fence should not touch the grass or branches of trees and shrubs (grounding).
THE BEAR MUST BE PRESERVED
Mykhailo Tomashevsky did not look for a way to kill the bear, because he believes that this species should be preserved for the sake of the integrity of the Carpathian ecosystem. His village Mykulychyn is quite a popular place among tourists. The beekeeper feels happy when people who come here admire the wildlife and the beauty of the surrounding mountains. And tourists admire the fact that the surrounding forests are inhabited by wild animals – bears, lynx, and wolves.
“A lot of tourists come here, and also from different countries, and see traces of a bear. They are proud that the Carpathians, their integrity, and virgin forests where the bear can live are still preserved. The bear must be in our mountains and it must be preserved. He is the king of animals and let him rule until the end of his term, as long as civilization and the world exist”
says Mykhailo Tomashevsky.