• Researchers demonstrate the recovery of large carnivores in Europe

    December 18, 2014

    The research, published by the prestigious journal Science, has been led by the Swedish University of Agrarian Sciences and the University of Oviedo, with the participation of scientists from 26 countries

    A bear in a European forest. Photo: © Vicenzo Penteriani

    Researchers from 26 countries have proved the success of the recovery of species of large carnivores in European areas dominated by humans. The work, published in today's edition of the prestigious Science journal, is led by Professor Guillaume Chapron of the Swedish University of Agrarian Sciences and José Vicente López-Bao, researcher from the University of Oviedo (Mixed Unit of Research in Biodiversity-CSIC), and has had the participation of 76 researchers from throughout the continent.

    The research analyzes the evolution of the brown bear, the Euroasian lynx, the wolf and the wolverine in Europe during the past few decades and proves that the co-existence of these predators with humans is possible

    The research has analyzed the evolution of the populations of brown bear, lynx, wolf and wolverine in Europe. The conclusions of the research prove that the four species have been in the process of recovery throughout the past decades after having been eradicated in most areas of Europe during the 20th Century, and prove the success of the European model of co-existence. "Europe is an excelent example that shows how humans and large carnivores may share the same landscape", comments José Vicente López-Bao.

    The research compares the European conservationist model, focused on co-existence, with the model implemented in other parts of the planet where large carnivores are mainly preserved in large protected areas or wild habitats, far from humans. If this model had been applied to Europe, it could have hardly been suitable to host as great populations of large carnivores, since there are not enough protected areas or wild habitats.

    "Some of the factors that have contributed to the recovery of these large carnivores in Europe are the existence of a favorable legislation in terms of conservation, both nationally and internationally, where the Habitats Directive, implemented in 1992, has played a key role; the existence of solid institutions devoted to the management and protection of the environment; the welfare state and the large period of political stability since the end of World War II, and the general will of society to co-exist with these species, as well as the rural exodus and the increase of wild preys", explains José Vicente López-Bao. "Moreover, the use of traditional practices such as shephard dogs, enclosures and the figure of the shephard, alongside with new techniques like electrical fences, have been vital to reduce the level of conflict in many areas of Europea and to favor co-existence", claims the researcher.

    The conservation model applied to Europe has led the continent to, for example, have double the amount of wolves (>12,400) than the neighboring states of the USA (~5,500), despite Europe only spanning half of their territories and having double the amount of population density (97 inhabitants/km2 versus 40 inhabitants/km2).

    Nevertheless, the researchers also warn that many of the conflicts that originally caused the decline of these species, such as attacks against cattle, are still present, specially in areas where large carnivores have been absent for several decades and have later on recolonized them, since in many cases the practices that favored co-existence have been lost. Furthermore, sometimes large carnivores like the wolf have been used as the symbol of profound political and social division between rural and urban areas. Therefore, experts recommend a constant monitoring both of the ecological situation and the political and social environment around these species in order to ensure the safety of the recovery observed.

    Some relevant data

    • One third of Europe (~1.5 million km2) is currently inhabited by at least one species. At least three specie co-exist in 594.000 km2.
    • Estimate of bears in Europe: 17,000 bears in 10 populations that span a global area 485,000 km2.
    • Estimate of lynx in Europe: 9,000 lynx in 11 populations that span a global area 813,000 km2.
    • Estimate of wolves in Europe: 12,000 wolves in 10 populations that span a global area 798,000 km2.
    • Estimate of wolverines in Europe: 1,250 wolverines in 2 populations that span a global area of 248,000 km2.

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    A bear in a European forest. Photo: © Vicenzo Penteriani