Into the wilderness of bureaucracy

Location: Boga – Romania,
Story by: Ioan Popa Moldovan

© Gavril Marius Berchi/WWF Romania


Ioan Popa Moldovan, a farmer from Bihor Mountains (western Romania), owns a 400 sheep and 200 lambs flock that he keeps in an open air stable during the summer. His animals are guarded by two shepherds and 6 dogs, but even so, every season his flock is attacked by wolves and bears. His attempts to get compensation for the damages are undermined by bureaucracy and bad communication with the local administration.


A struggle for living with a price attached

Every morning before dawn, Popa Ioan Moldovan wakes up to tend to his animals. At 5 o’clock he leaves home from Pietroasa village to drive ”up to the mountains”, 22 km away. Here, at Bălileasa, he keeps his sheep flock during the summer. He lives in an incredibly beautiful high-hills area in Bihor Mountains (western Romania), where tourists start their hike through the woods to get to the famous caves of Apuseni Nature Park.

400 sheep and 200 lambs, also 11 cows and 14 sows are being kept at the stable, where the animals are protected during the night by a simple wooden fence traditional for the area. While on the hills to graze, the animals are watched by the shepherds and protected by 6 dogs.

Before sunrise, Popa Ioan Moldovan milks the sheep and starts to prepare the cheese helped by two shepherds and his family members. It’s an every-day hard work that never stops, not even for what people from the city call a „holiday”.

Everything that Mr. Moldovan owns is based exclusively on his money and work, with no help from the outside. All farmers and shepherds from the area are working pretty much the same way as their parents and grandparents did before them.

We have no time or knowledge to access European funds. I work hard the entire day and get to sleep late in the evening. That’s our life here and that is what we know how to do”

All farmers and shepherds from the area are working pretty much the same way as their parents and grandparents did before them.

The conflicts with wildlife in the area are transgressing generations as well. Every year, the sheep and cattle of the locals are attacked by wolves or bears. „We have at least 10.000 lei (2200 euros) worth of damage per year in this area”, estimates Popa Ioan Moldovan. But unlike their parents and grandparents, the farmers can claim today financial compensation for the sheep or cattle killed by protected carnivores like bears and wolves.

Two years ago, 10 sheep grazing on the hills were attacked and killed by wolves. It was a damage of circa 650 euros that doesn’t seems much, but for the people in the area it’s an important amount. A few days later, another sheep was killed in the stable and one was taken away by a bear, during the night.


When you miss a paper and know nothing about it

Despite his limited time and shyness when it comes to official papers, Mr. Moldovan struggled to gather evidence and complete the necessary file for the compensation claim. Rangers from the park administration advised him to do so.

People from the local city hall, from the veterinarian local authority, from the forestry guard, from the environmental guard and from the Park administration came to register and evaluate the damage.

Eventually the file was almost finished, but one institution refused to sign for approval. Nobody informed Mr. Moldovan in time and he found out only about 2 months later, by accident. „I was very disappointed so I decided to renounce. We’re shepherds working in the mountains. It takes too much time, effort and even money to struggle for this”, says Popa Ioan Moldovan.

As he states, the livestock owners usually avoid to complain about the bears and wolves attacks on their animals as this can become a subject of mockery from the others.

In this matter, I’m the only one I can rely on . Last week the wolves killed three other of my sheep. But I will not try to file another compensation claim.

Livestock Guarding Dogs

When grazing on the hills, the sheep are watched by two shepherds and 6 dogs. They are not specialised guarding dogs or traditional breed like the Carpathian Shepherd dog. 

© Gavril Marius Berchi/WWF


During the night, Mr. Popa Moldovan keeps his sheep in an open air stable with traditional wooden fences. The flock will spend all summer here. 

© Gavril Marius Berchi/WWF


Lack of good examples

The compensation money takes a lot of time to get into the account of the livestock owners and there are no signs of improvement. According to local sources, this process could take even one year. Furthermore, the locals are complaining that the compensation amount is not big enough to justify the energy and time lost with the compensation file process.

In some cases, a bad communication between the main actors involved (local authorities, environmental agencies, local people etc.) adds to the bureaucratic obstacles. Therefore the compensation system never attains its main objective – to give a fair repayment to local people and to ensure a real coexistence with large carnivores. That’s the reason why old methods as killing and burying wild animals are still being used by the locals in some areas to “solve the problem”.

Stuck in their traditional way of raising animals, local owners on the other hand are not very interested in using modern methods of deterrence as electric fences, flares or specialized dogs that could reduce the number of attacks. Their low interest is not necessarily caused by the lack of money but mostly because of the lack of local initiatives that could offer good examples and knowledge.

According to the official figures, around 60 bears, 55 wolves and 27 lynxes are living in Apuseni Nature Park. The Park administration’s efforts from recent years to reduce human intervention in some remote areas have created a favourable environment for these species to develop.

© Gavril Marius Berchi/WWF