Developing a joint management plan for bear in Croatia

Location: Zagreb – Croatia,
Story by: Đuro Huber


Bear – a biggest terrestrial carnivore in Croatia sometimes causes conflicts. Coexistence with the brown bear (Ursus arctos), as well as other large carnivores, is possible only if the local community accepts their presence. Acceptance is not always easy. It depends of the ratio of the positive and negative effects caused by the bear in the area. In another words, it depends on how much damage bears produce, or how much community can profit through non-consuming (bear watching) and consuming (hunting) tourist exploitation. However, the mental concept of bears as a natural part of a local habitat is the biggest positive factor. Question is – how to reach and maintain that?


Bear population in Croatia was very low during the Second World War – less than 100. After the War bear became fully protected species which brought an interesting saying in parts of Croatia “Protected as a bear”. Since the 1950’s only the high politicians were allowed to hunt, when in the 1960’s , even the hunters from abroad got permission to hunt in exchange for trophy value. The hunting continued, but thanks to the good management planning, it went together with the constant raising of population – to almost 1000 individuals today.


That number is almost completely aligned with what is called “ecological capacity” and “social capacity”. “Ecological capacity” happens when the bear population stabilizes itself, while “social capacity” indicates the number of bears that communities can accept. While in some countries social capacity is almost zero, which means that people don’t want bears in their countries at all, in Croatia the situation is different. Moreover, according to two studies (2002, 2008) communities that live in the bear habitat area are in favor of growing bear population.

How did this happen?


Species monitoring

Thanks to the group from a Faculty of veterinary medicine, led by scientist– prof. PhD, Đuro Huber who has dedicated his life to bear research in Croatia. Back in 1981 prof. Huber led the bear tracking and monitoring project, second of that kind in Europe. The first bear he collared with radio-transmitter was young female bear named Lili in National Park Plitvice Lakes (see photo 1). Since then he didn’t stop. Prof. Huber and his team have collared altogether 60 bears. All collected information from radio tracking, together with DNA analysis is used not only for scientific purposes but also for education, awareness raising as well as for bear management planning. Moreover, prof. Huber’s team is the key factor in numerous national and international projects, like construction of green bridges on highways, installation of fences, education on bear-proof waste management, which all lead to better coexistence of bears and humans.


Today, there are close to 1000 bears in Croatia which is almost the perfect number from both, “ecological and social capacity” point of view. That represents a positive number and a positive example for the whole Europe. Prof. Huber believes that his study is helping to secure the long-term survival of the bear population as well as human-bear coexistence. So do we. Thank you, professor!