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Damages caused by bears: Only humans determine frequency Number of bears negligible

Leipzig. Annually, over 3,200 compensation payments are made throughout Europe for damage caused by brown bears. The extent of the reported damage varies dramatically among countries though. Differences in the number of bears are not the cause. Instead, human land use, as well as national legislation and management of bear populations are responsible for the variation. These are the results of a new study with the involvement of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). The researchers are calling for increased co-operation at a European level.

Large predators such as the brown bear Ursus arctos fulfil a key role in many ecosystems and are admired by many people. However, they also cause damage by preying on cattle, destroying bee hives, or eating arable crops. To minimise the resulting conflicts, the people affected receive compensation payments in almost all European countries, in total over 3,200 payments per year. This compensation is an important instrument for protecting the brown bear and other large predators.

The number of compensation payments that are requested, however, significantly varies across Europe. For example, around 900 compensation payments per year are made in Norway, but only 30 in Estonia – despite the fact that there are four times as many bears in Estonia than in Norway. Calculated per bear, the number of compensation payments in Norway is 150 times higher than in Estonia. This was reported in the Journal of Applied Ecology by a team of 23 researchers and wildlife experts that includes Néstor Fernández from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. The researchers determined the number of bears, as well as both the amount of damage reported and compensation payments made within the 26 European countries where brown bears live. Overall, they analysed nearly 18,000 compensation claims that were received during the years 2005-2012.

The researchers investigated which factors are responsible for the differences between the countries. The surprising result is that: The number of damage reports does not depend on the number of bears. “Intuitively, you would maybe presume such a link. But our analyses show that many bears do not automatically cause a large amount of damage. Instead, factors determined by people significantly influence the number of damage reports” explains Néstor Fernández. There are fewer damage reports in areas where the bears are fed, probably because attacks on sheep and cattle herds or bee hives occur more commonly when food supply is scarce. Human land use also plays an important role: Fewer damage claims were received in areas with a high proportion of forest and relatively little agricultural land. In forests, large bear populations can spread out undisturbed and less frequently come into contact with animal herds. In addition, bears avoid agricultural areas. Another result of the study is that the conditions under which the compensations are made are critical: On the one hand, the actual extent of damage can be curbed if payments are linked to preventive measures, such as herd dogs and electric fences. On the other hand, the conditions may also affect the ratio of actual damage to damage reported: Comparatively low payments and high bureaucratic effort leads to an under-reporting of damage, while lack of damage verification encourages over-reporting.

The scientists report that a major challenge at present is due to states in Europe having different legislation to deal with bears. “This is especially problematic if bears live in border areas. In the Carpathians, for example, one single population is spread across Slovakia, Poland and Slovenia” says Fernández. This is why it is important to make decisions at a European level, and ideally to create uniform legislation across Europe, says the researcher. Carlos Bautista, lead author of the study adds: “The objective of the legislation should be to effectively protect the brown bears and, at the same time, to minimise the extent of the damage that they cause. To achieve this, one must take into account that the number of claims for compensation of bear damage is determined by complex human factors.” Tabea Turrini

Link to press release:

Link to pictures:


Bautista, C., Naves, J., Revilla, E., Fernández, N., Albrecht, J., Scharf, A. K., Rigg, R., Karamanlidis, A. A., Jerina, K., Huber, D., Palazón, S., Kont, R., Ciucci, P., Groff, C., Dutsov, A., Seijas, J., Quenette, P.-I.., Olszańska, A., Shkvyria, M., Adamec, M., Ozolins, J., Jonozovič, M. and Selva, N. (2016), Patterns and correlates of claims for brown bear damage on a continental scale. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12708


This study was funded by the National Science Center in Poland under agreement DEC-2013/08/M/NZ9/00469. J.A. was funded by the project GLOBE POL-NOR/198352/85/2013 under the Polish-Norwegian Research Programme operated by the National Centre for Research and Development.


 Further Information:

 Néstor Fernández, PhD (English and Spanish)

Postdoctoral researcher at the Department for Biological Conservation at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

Mobile number on request available from the iDiv media relations department.



Tabea Turrini, PhD (English and German)

Media Relations iDiv

Tel.: +49 341 9733 106

iDiv is a central facility of the University of Leipzig within the meaning of Section 92 (1) of the Act on Academic Freedom in Higher Education in Saxony (Sächsisches Hoch-schulfreiheitsgesetz, SächsHSFG). It is run together with the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, as well as in cooperation with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ. The following non-university research institutions are involved as cooperation partners: the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI BGC), the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI CE), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI EVA), the Leibniz Institute DSMZ–German Collection of Micro¬organisms and Cell Cultures, the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB), the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) and the Leibniz Institute Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz (SMNG).


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