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THE EXPANDINGBROWNBEAR POPULATION
OF SLOVENIA:A CHANCEFOR
BEAR RECOVERYINTHE SOUTHEASTERNALPS
WildlifeEcology Division,ForestryInstitute,BiotechnicalFaculty,Universityof Ljubljana,SLO-1000Ljubljana,
Slovenia, email:miha email@example.com
Abstract: Slovenia is the northwesternedge of the Balcano-Dinaricbrownbear (Ursus arctos) populationarea. A viable populationof about 250
bears inhabitsa core managementarea in southcentralSlovenia. A smallerpopulation,establishedby bears emigratingfrom the core areatoward
the northwest,exists in adjacentborderareas of Slovenia, Austria and Italy. Interstatecooperationis necessary to furtherincrease brown bear
numbersand range of this southeasternalpine population. Preservingmain emigrationcorridorsand improvingthe political habitatfor the future
welfare of bears in the Alps are among the most importanttasks facing bear managers. The problemsarisingfrom increasedsheep predationby
bears in corridorareas, interstatehighway construction,and other humaninfluences affecting the spreadof bears are discussed.
Int. Conf. Bear Res. and Manage. 9(2)25-29
Key words: Alps, brownbear, expandingpopulation,Slovenia, Ursus arctos.
The Republic of Slovenia is a transitionareabetween
the Balcano-Dinaric brown bear range and the Alps.
Sloveniarepresentsthe northwesternedge of the BalcanoDinaricbrownbearpopulation,which encompassesparts
of southcentralSlovenia and the mountainousareas of
Croatia,Bosnia and Herzegovina,Montenegro,Kosovo,
and Macedonia (Fig. 1). The population also extends
south into bear range in Albania and Greece (Mertzanis
Between 1981 and 1990, the brownbearpopulationin
Slovenia was roughly estimatedat 250-320 animals by
the Slovenian HuntersAssociation. In the same period,
this organizationreported421 bears legally harvested.
This datasuggests thatthe populationin the westernpart
of the Dinaric areais stable.
Since the brownbearwas exterminatedin the Alps before the beginning of the 20th century (Roth 1987), the
Slovenian bear populationis the closest source for bear
populationrecoveryin the southeasternAlps. Duringthe
19th centurythe brown bear was less persecutedon the
Slovenianside of theAlps andin the KaravankeandJulian
Alps, as was the case in the restof Europe(Simonic 1994).
the Alps because of preservedhabitatsin the BalcanoDinaric populationarea, the low density of bears in this
area, and preservedmigrationcorridors. Although most
of these bearswere killed by local people, the brownbear
never completely disappearedfrom the Slovenian Alps
The brown bear now holds the attentionand sympathies of people in Europe. Greatefforts are being made
to conserve isolated remnantpopulationsof bears in the
Spanish and French Pyrenees, the Trentinoarea in the
ItalianAlps, and in Norway. In Austriaand France,reintroductionof wild bears into areas of their formerrange
are in progress(Adamic 1994).
Because of pronounceddifferencesin ecological characteristics, habitat suitabilities, and brown bear densities, 2 differentsystems of brownbearmanagementwere
implemented in Slovenia in 1966. An area of about
3,000 km2in southcentralSlovenia was declareda core
managementarea (Fig. 2). About 70% of this core area
is covered by mixed Dinaric beech-fir (Fagetum
Fig. 1. Relationship between Slovenia as a transition area
between the Balcano-Dinaric brown bear range (1) and the
26 Int. Conf:Bear Res. and Manage. 9(2) 1997
Fig. 2. Brown bear management areas in Slovenia.
dinaricum-Abiesspp.) and oak-beech (Quercus-Fagus)
forests with good feeding and denning sites (Adamic
1990). Most of this core area is sparsely settled or uninhabitedby humans (Ciglar 1979). Recent telemetry
studies of brown bear movements in adjacent Gorski
Kotarin the Republic of Croatia(Huber 1987) demonstratedthat areas on both sides of the borderrepresent
continuous brown bear habitat covering approximately
5,000 km2. It is estimated that 400-450 bears live in
this joint area (Adamic 1992). According to the 1976
Act on Hunting in Slovenia (Uradni list SRS 25/76),
brown bear managementin the core area must include
the following: (1) centralplanningof the yearly harvest
and its spatial distribution,(2) regulationof legal hunting methods, including the shooting season (October 1April 30) and legal hunting weapons and calibers, (3)
reimbursementto local farmersfor damages caused by
brown bears, (4) supplemental feeding at permanent
feeding sites, (5) protectionof key habitat,and (6) recording data collected on harvestedbears into the Central Slovenian Bear Register.
A second areaof about 17,000 km2(85% of Slovenia)
was designatedthe outermanagementarea(Fig. 2). The
densityof bearsin this outerareais much lower thanthat
found in the core area. Based on crudeestimates, about
10%of the populationof Slovenianbearsis found in the
outermanagementarea,primarilyin the northwesternand
western region. The main source of bears in this outer
population appearsto be emigrantsthat leave the core
area and disperse in several directions (Adamic 1990).
Accordingto the 1976Acton Huntingin Slovenia(Uradni
list SRS 25/76), brown bears in this outer area were declaredunprotected.Membersof local huntersclubs were
allowed to shoot bears year-round,but the taking of females with cubs was illegal. Bears were unprotectedin
the outermanagementareabecause of frequentbearpredationon sheep and cattle and damageto beehives, fruit
trees, corn fields, and othercrops. Althoughthese damages were promptly reimbursed, local farmers were
againstprotectingthe brownbear. Despite its unprotected
status,on averageonly 3 bears were shot annuallyin the
outerarea (Fig. 3).
OF SLOVENIA* Adamic
neighboringareasof Italy andAustria. Since 1990, only
problembears which repeatedlyattackedcattle or sheep
on open pastureswere shot. Permission to shoot these
animals, about 2-3 annually,is given on a case by case
basis, by the SlovenianMinistryof Agricultureand Forestry.
In 1992 (29-30 June) the Alps-Adria Bear Specialist
Groupmet in Ljubljana.Acute problemsconcerningthe
returnof the brown bear to the Alps were discussed. A
resolution on a common strategy to support the
transfrontierextension of bears, addressed to the governmentsof participatingcountries, was adoptedat this
Although cases of bear emigrationfrom southcentral
Slovenia were recordedduringperiods of low bear density in the first half of the 20th century(Erzen 1953, Pirc
1954, Amon 1961, Svigelj 1961), movementof bearsinto
northwesternSlovenia and neighboringareas of Austria
and Italy became more frequent in the mid 1960s
(Anderluh 1972; Bozic 1972; Gaspersic 1973; Adamic
1987, 1990; Perco and Boscagli 1987; Strumbelj1989).
These increasedemigrationsoccurredwith the growthof
the bear population in the core areas of southcentral
Slovenia. According to Servheen (1987), Pulliainen
(1983a,b)andRogers(1987) frequentsightingsof females
with cubs in newly occupied areasis a reliable sign of an
expanding population. Thus, frequent sightings of females with cubs in the outer managementarea suggests
that the brown bear population in Slovenia is progressively expanding(Table1). The firstreliablesigns of denning activityin the outermanagementareawere reported
in 1961 near Podbrdoin Baska Grapa(I. Arman, pers.
Following recommendationsfrom the 1986 Trento,
Italy,WorldWildlife Fund Conferenceon brownbear in
the Alps, the HuntersAssociation of Slovenia restricted
the shooting of bears in the outer area in 1987. This
was to supportthe naturalrecolonizationof bears into
For the brownbear to continueto increasein Slovenia
and to expand into the southeasternAlps of Italy and
Austria,several problemsmust be addressed. Although
damages incurredby bears have been promptly reimbursed,severalcases of bear predationon sheep in 1991
and 1992 in northwesternSlovenia triggeredrising opposition among sheep farmersagainst the protectionof
the brown bear and other large predatorsin the outer
managementarea. Duringthe draftingof futurehunting
legislation this opposition,which could seriously impact
*ECore management area (593) *Outer management area (45)
Fig.3. Brownbear harvestin Sloveniafrom1977-91. (Totalharvestin parentheses).
28 Int. Conf Bear Res. and Manage. 9(2) 1997
Table1. Signs of brownbearpresence,bearsightings,and sightingsof femaleswithcubs in the outermanagementarea,
efforts for furthertransfrontierexpansion of bears, became very clear (A. Simonic, pers. commun.).
Anotherimportantproblemaffectingthe spreadof bears
throughnorthwesterncorridorsis the recentconstruction
of a highway networkin Slovenia, which began in 1991
withthe buildingof the OsimohighwaysectionsRazdrtoNova Gorica and Razdrto-Koper. These highways will
split the main bear emigrationcorridorat 2 places. Although bears skillfully climb fences constructedalong
such highways, they seldom escape the vehicles on the
highway and are often hit and killed. Fromour observations along the fenced Ljubljana-Razdrtohighway,it appears to take bears a long time to find ways of avoiding
new barrierson traditionalroutes. Fourbearcausedaccidents took place on the Ljubljana-Razdrtohighway in
1992: 2 bears were killed and another2 were injuredbut
escaped. A driverof 1 of the vehicles was also seriously
injured. In 1992 on the Idrija-Goricamotorway,1 bear
was killed by a car, and anotherby a trainin the vicinity
of Divaca (Table2). Bear-trafficcollisions in 1992, especially those on the Ljubljana-Razdrtohighway helped
persuadeplanners at the Slovenian Ministry for Public
Transportto consider installing wildlife crossings on
plannedsections of highways. Traffic-causedbear mortalities in neighborCroatiawere studiedby Frkovicet al.
(1987), who stressedthat bear mortalityincreases when
highways and railwaysare constructedin bear habitat.
The futureof the brownbear in Slovenia remainsunclear. Despite moderatehunting pressureand negative
environmentaleffects from humanactivities,the population of brown bears in Slovenia has not been seriously
affected (Berce and Strumbelj1994). The brown bear
was declared a vulnerablespecies in the recentRed List
of Mammalsof Slovenia (Krystufek1992). The planned
highway and railway corridorsto be built in Slovenia
duringthe next 15 years representa serious threatto the
future status of the brown bear in its core area and for
futureexpansion. Public attitudesare of crucial importance for the survival of a vital bear population in
Slovenia, which has the only sourcepopulation(Pulliam
and Danielson 1991) for the returnof the brownbear to
the Alps. This makes its protectionof internationalas
well as local importance. The futureconservationstrategy for brown bear in Slovenia should include the following: (1) protection of key habitats in the core
managementarea, (2) preservationand improvementof
naturalfood sources, (3) intensivemanagementof hunting mortality,(4) education of local people on ways to
cohabit with bears, and (5) considerationof the brown
bear in spatial planning operationson statewide levels.
We hope that our ideas on the futureconservationof the
brown bear in Slovenia will be accepted and supported
on an internationallevel.
Table2. Reportedbear-trafficcollisions in outermanagementarea,Slovenia,1992.
male 55 kg
male 30 kg
male 49 kg
male 166 kg
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