Food waste and bear proofing

by Paul White

Problems with bears breaking into properties is nearly always associated with food. This dangerous and unnatural behaviour is of course caused by humans disposing of food waste inappropriately, e.g open refuse sites, non-bear proof bins, careless littering by tourists and passing motorists.

So what is the sequence of events when this cycle of poor waste management and dangerous bear behaviour starts? Baile Balvanyos has long had a problem with bears accessing poorly discarded food waste, which has now given local bears a strong taste and desire for it. Placing high calorific foodstuffs in the same location day after day won't go unnoticed for long by bears with a highly developed sense of smell.

The resulting danger of bears being attracted to this tourist resort increased to a point where it could no longer be ignored. Efforts are now being made to tackle this problem, but once bears are conditioned by human food it's not always easy to reverse this behaviour.

Bears were becoming more and more daring, even breaking into local properties to satisfy their hunger. Shutting down access to refuse sites is relatively easy as long as there is a consistent and disciplined approach to food disposal, but is that enough when bears already know that they can find food in properties? Of course it wouldn't so buildings have required a similar deterrence plan including electrification.

Why electrify buildings and fences rather than place dogs in gardens? Being a seasonal resort many of the properties in Balvanyos are only used at weekends and on holidays so feeding dogs daily is not practicable. Also many tourists on holiday would not find continuously barking dogs conducive to relaxation.

Many local initiatives to prevent or deal with problem bears are patchy at best, for example I have never seen bear proof wheelie bins* used in Romania like the ones you see in north America. That said there is strong motivation in Balvanyos because tourism generates large revenues for the local economy. Business owners know that it will only take one severe bear mauling for tourists to holiday somewhere else.

Of course the issues are multifaceted and not only do a generation of local bears need desensitization to our food, but public awareness and education programs need organising to promote the 'do's and don'ts' in bear country. Otherwise all these mitigation initiatives could be rendered useless by a handful of people that continue to discard food waste inappropriately. Passing motorists must also stop feeding habituated roadside bears. Bears should never be fed with anything, they are wild animals, not stray dogs.

Please remember the adage 'A fed bear is a dead bear' as they usually end up being shot.

* If you have direct knowledge as to why 'bear proof wheelie bins' are not used in towns and villages to secure food waste in Romania, please get in touch with any information you may have. Please use the secure contact form in the right column.