It was round 5 pm on March 15, and the sunshine was fading quick, when Constantin and Tatiana had been attacked by the bear. The younger couple, aged 29 and 31 and recognized in native media experiences solely by their first names, had been Belarusians residing in Poland. But Constantin had been working for the winter as a ski teacher in Jasná, a well-liked resort in neighboring Slovakia. The winter season was coming to an finish, and on a day without work he’d determined to go mountaineering together with his girlfriend beneath the 4,718 foot-high peak of Na Jame, within the Slovak nationwide park surrounding the resort.

What occurred subsequent isn’t precisely clear, however newspaper experiences counsel that when the couple encountered the bear—a younger male weighing about 265 kilos—they ran in several instructions. Finding himself alone, Constantin tried calling Tatiana. When he did not get a response, he referred to as mountain rescue. It was darkish once they ultimately discovered Tatiana’s physique, with the assistance of a search canine. She’d apparently fallen down a ravine, sustaining deadly accidents to her head.

As with earlier bear-related fatalities, each in Slovakia and throughout Europe, the incident has sparked accusations that conservationists are defending bears on the expense of individuals’s security. In 2021, a 57-year-old man was killed by a bear in the identical nationwide park, stoking neighborhood tensions about their presence and resulting in requires a cull. As it stands, nevertheless, looking the animals is banned beneath each Slovakian and European regulation, and consultants argue vociferously {that a} lack of training—fairly than a concentrate on conservation—is the first reason behind the issue.

“It’s actually kicked off right here, with the press and politicians I believe making some unjustified statements,” says British-born zoologist Robin Rigg. A specialist in massive carnivores, Rigg is the chair of the Slovak Wildlife Society, which he arrange in 1998, two years after shifting to the nation. Initial experiences instructed that Tatiana may need been killed by the bear itself fairly than by her fall, Rigg explains. “And it’s been stated in public—truly by somebody from the Ministry of the Environment—that it was a predatory assault. But I don’t see the proof for that.”

Although the animal was close to the physique when rescuers discovered Tatiana, “that doesn’t imply the bear was desiring to kill and eat her,” Rigg says. He stresses that he hasn’t seen all of the proof, so any conclusions are provisional. But he has seen a number of the grisly images that had been leaked to the media, “and none of them present indicators of consumption.” Puncture marks discovered within the younger lady’s leg, he says, “seem like claw marks—they’re not indicators of feeding.”

“It’s extraordinarily uncommon in Europe to have predatory assaults, and it’s not a standard factor wherever on the earth,” Riggs says. This incident occurred in an space the place bears are recognized to hibernate, at a time of yr when they’re simply waking up. “And what can generally occur is that the bear reacts aggressively in defending itself, which is what I believe is almost certainly to have occurred on this case—that it was startled by these two individuals showing,” Rigg says.

Unfortunately, this type of nuance doesn’t usually characteristic in protection of bear assaults. “You’re truly extra probably, statistically, to get hit by lightning or have an allergic response to a bee sting,” Rigg says, “however individuals don’t fear as a lot about that as they do a few large animal with sharp tooth and claws. It goes again to an instinctive worry that’s been with us since prehistoric occasions.”

The argument that Slovakia’s bears are nothing to be afraid of was additional undermined when footage emerged of an animal galloping down a important road in Liptovský Mikuláš simply two days after Tatiana’s loss of life. The animal was filmed lunging aggressively at pedestrians, who jumped over fences to flee. No one was severely damage, however the video went viral. “And now,” Rigg says, “we’ve had these two incidents inside 48 hours of one another, inside a number of kilometers of one another. So the tendency is to take a look at them collectively and ask, ‘What ought to we do about bears?’”

It’s a query that’s change into more and more urgent in recent times—not simply in Slovakia however all through Europe. Having been hunted to the purpose of extinction in lots of international locations, brown bears had their “strictly protected” standing enshrined in EU regulation in 1992. In most areas the place they’re current, bear populations are rising, and there are actually an estimated 17,000 brown bears residing in rural areas throughout the continent. The restoration of this keystone species has been celebrated as an enormous win by biologists and biodiversity consultants—nevertheless it’s not been with out its issues.

In the Pyrenees, the mountains that straddle the border between France and Spain, French and Spanish farmers’ unions, sick of coping with injury to crops, beehives, and livestock, have referred to as for bear numbers to be minimize. In the northern Italian province of Trentino, the place bears had been reintroduced as a part of an EU-funded rewilding mission, the tragic loss of life of path runner Andrea Papi in April 2023 introduced simmering resentments effervescent as much as the floor. To the horror of native scientists, Trentino’s right-wing populist president, Maurizio Fugatti, proposed killing half of the rigorously nurtured inhabitants of round 120 bears in a single day.

Yet, consultants say, culling bears is way from one of the best ways to forestall future tragedies. In the wake of Andrea Papi’s loss of life, the native pure historical past museum invited Tom Smith, a bear administration specialist from Utah’s Brigham Young University, to offer a discuss how such points are handled in North America. In an indication of how excessive neighborhood tensions had been operating, the museum took the weird step of posting an armed guard on the entrance.

In his discuss, Smith instructed that the options had been comparatively easy: “What you’ve got right here isn’t essentially a bear downside, it’s a individuals downside,” he stated. Unlike in North America, the place individuals in bear areas have grown up with the animals, Europeans residing close to just lately recovered populations don’t essentially know easy methods to behave. But with some primary bear-awareness coaching—of the sort that’s taught “in kindergarten” in some Canadian provinces—the variety of harmful or deadly encounters could possibly be vastly decreased.

Smith runs the North American Human-Bear Conflict Database, which accommodates detailed info on 2,175 historic assaults, with “a quarter-million information factors.” “What I’ve realized by learning these occasions,” he advised the gang, “is that 60 p.c of them had been completely pointless—and will have been averted if individuals had behaved otherwise.” In an interview a number of days later, Smith talked particularly about Papi’s loss of life, telling WIRED, “I can undergo the small print and say, ‘You ought to by no means do this, or that, or that,’ and it’s not sufferer blaming, it’s making an attempt to say, look, this was totally preventable.”

Tragically, this additionally seems to have been the case in Slovakia. “Unfortunately, the route that they selected was a really dangerous one,” Rigg says. “It’s not a acknowledged mountaineering route, and it’s part of the park that’s strictly protected, so that they shouldn’t have been there. Added to that, it’s a limestone space, and that’s an space I’d anticipate there could be denning bears.” The encounter occurred round nightfall, when crepuscular creatures like brown bears are usually extra energetic.

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