Photohunter and his trophies
Location: Osmoloda – Ukraine,
Story by: Mykhailo Kos
Mykhailo Kos has been working in forestry for more than 25 years as a forester and hunting expert. He noticed that in recent years, the number of bears is much smaller and according to him, one of the reasons for this decrease is poaching. He has been “hunting” for a long time with photo traps. His “trophies” — pictures — bring joy not only to himself but also to scientists.
According to scientists, in winter 2020 in Ukraine, about 50 bear cubs could be born in the wild. In some years, near the same number might be killed in the Ukrainian Carpathians for the reason of illegal hunting, human-bear conflicts, to get bear derivatives, and also bear cubs kidnapping from the wild. These conclusions were made by WWF experts as a result of its secret investigation of poachers’ motivation. And this is the main reason for the consistently low number of bears in Ukraine (since 2003, when this species was given protection status, its number has not increased much).
Sometimes bears are killed by farmers because of attacks on their livestock or apiaries. But such “conflicts” between humans and predators can be resolved with the help of coexistence tools – livestock guarding dogs or by installing electric fences. WWF-Ukraine has been successfully disseminating this practice in the Carpathians for the last 5 years.
WWF experts, as well as hunters and forest workers who often met wild animals in their natural habitat, believe that conflicts can also be avoided if you know how to behave when meeting them.
Large Carnivores and Society
In June 2020 WWF-Ukraine and sociological agency Info Sapiens conducted an all-Ukrainian public opinion poll. According to its data, 83% of Ukrainians have a negative attitude towards bear and lynx hunting and believe that the state should enforce the Law of Ukraine on their protection. 82% are negative about the possible prospect that these species may become extinct, and 90% consider it necessary to create areas of nature reserves to protect them.
One of the main reasons for bear poaching, according to a secret WWF-Ukraine study, is a simple wish to assert its own high social status. But not always. Sometimes in Carpathians bears can be hunted by locals for skin and meat, fat, and bile (are used in alternative medicine). All of these are black market goods that sometimes cost thousands of euros. And this is what sometimes motivates people to break the law.
«I heard about such cases when animals have been shot, and then their meat sold to restaurants. But this type of meat has not passed veterinary tests, and it can be dangerous to consume it. A person may not know all that and get sick. That may even lead to lethal outcomes. The bear is a Red Data Book listed species, and the only option to get its meat is poaching», — Mykhailo Kos said.
Mykhailo Kos has been working in Osmolodsky Forestry since 1992, and as a hunting expert, forester, and hunter. The man lives in a mountainous area and knows the surrounding forests like “his own hand”. He met wild animals in their natural habitat, even saw a bear and a lynx. But he noticed that in recent years there have been far fewer bears. Two reasons for this reduction, he said — a factor of concern (collectors of berries and mushrooms, tourists) and poaching.
«Hunting is a dangerous business. A bear can move at a fairly high speed, about 100 m within a few seconds. Hunters may not even be able to reload their weapons. It is better to hunt with camera traps. I put my cameras in the forest where there are bear passages or lawns with bilberries. I have already received my trophies. A camera trap can even capture a poacher. There were incidents when camera traps caught random people and tourists. It can take shots of everyone who will walk within its range», — he warns all those who want to break the law.
Mykhailo Kos is concerned about the declining numbers of wild animals, especially bears because he understands that they are the key to a healthy forest. For some time now he has been studying the Carpathian bear with the help of photo traps and considers it the best hunting, and the photo – a trophy. He also helps scientists collect the bear’s genetic material – feces and fur. Mykhailo Kos is the best example of how hunters can use their knowledge and skills to help study and protect bears in the Carpathians. And he understands the importance of his work.
Monitoring with camera traps
Monitoring with camera traps is used in all parts of the world to detect animal species and individuals living in a certain area. Depending on the species, the camera traps enable viable data about the presence of certain species as well as their behaviour and reproduction cycles to be collected. The cameras are powered by batteries and the pictures need to be downloaded regularly. They are usually installed in a fixed location and triggered by motion and/or heat sensors when animals pass. For species such as the lynx, which can be clearly identified by their individual fur pattern, and which are territorial, the camera traps can also be used to count the number of individuals and observe the development of the population.
THE JOINT DECISION
Bohdan Vykhor, Wildlife manager at WWF-Ukraine, considers that it is necessary to strengthen the protection of bears by law. Hunting experts and forestry workers sharing his opinion as well. And they contribute by looking for common solutions to help save this species in Ukraine.
«WWF experts analyzed species’ management in national parks, reserves, forestries, and hunting farms of various forms of ownership. The obtained results became the basis of the updated National Action Plan for the Conservation of the Brown Bear. It includes analysis of the current state of populations of this animal in Ukraine, the factors influencing their state, and information on measures for their conservation, — Bohdan Vykhor noticed. — We also proposed to increase the responsibility for the use of thermal imaging devices and weapons with silencers, which are often used by poachers, especially during the illegal night hunting. The inevitability of avoiding punishment is the main argument that can deter a potential poacher”.