Background

BALTIC LARGE CARNIVORE PROJECT: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO REGIONAL CONSERVATION

To improve the scientific knowledge of large carnivores in the Baltic States and Poland, an important gateway to Europe for Russian large carnivores, a cross-border research program began in 2003 that involved hunters working alongside forestry agencies and scientists. 

The last 30 years has seen a global U-turn in large carnivore conservation policy, from extermination to preservation.  In response to this, populations of Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), brown bear (Ursus arctos), grey wolf (Canis lupus) and wolverine (Gulo gulo) across the continent have reversed their decline and begun growing. 

While this has been a great success for European conservation, this population growth has brought large carnivores into contact with people in places that such interactions have not occurred for hundreds of years.  In these places, the lifestyles and livestock management techniques that allowed humans and carnivores to coexist in the same landscapes have been lost, and the recent spread of carnivores has led to conflicts between carnivores, conservationists, and the people that live in these landscapes. Major sources of conflict include livestock depredation, loss of game species for hunters and fear induced in the local populations.

The Baltic States and Poland represent an important gateway into Europe for three of the continent’s large carnivores (all except wolverines); the region links the Russian and Belarussian populations with those in the Carpathian Mountains and those in central Europe.

Unfortunately, the knowledge base for Baltic carnivore populations is generally poor and little-studied due to limited funding, however a cross-border platform does exist which has a basic understanding of diet, morphometrics, genetics and parasites. While the situation is better in Poland, the funding is limited and studies are restricted to small study areas. 

To improve the scientific knowledge of large carnivores in the Baltic States and Poland, a cross-border research program began in 2003 that involved hunters working alongside forestry agencies and scientists, which ended in 2005.

The project had four goals:

  • Build scientific co-operation between Norway, the Baltic States and Poland;
  • Transfer research experience from Norway to the Baltic states and build the capacity of local scientists;
  • Obtain ecological and sociological data that can be used to improve the conservation management of large carnivores in the region, and make large carnivores a model species for interdisciplinary research;
  • Transfer experience from successful carnivore-human coexistence from the Baltic region to Norway.

In order to achieve these goals, the Hunters’ associations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland began working with forestry administration agencies to collect and submit data for analysis.  Hunters collected data on carnivore distributions and population statuses using year-round specimen and track observations; this collection was carried out by a dense net of voluntary observers.  The observations are described and mapped, and the location and size of family groups are then noted.  This data allowed the distributions of wolves, lynx and bears within the region to be mapped; combined with data regarding population sizes this allowed scientists to begin to ascertain the conservation statuses of the species. 

Hunters also collected data on the level of damages caused by large carnivores to livestock and domesticated animals.  Conservation efforts for large carnivores can only be successful if tolerance for the species is high; high levels of depredation of livestock are likely to foster a lack of tolerance for the presence of large carnivores.  Collection of this data is therefore important to determine how to progress with conservation initiatives.

Finally, hunters also contributed to collection of data regarding tolerance for large carnivores by taking part in surveys assessing the views of the local stakeholders to the presence of large carnivores.  This data is extremely important as it supplements that collected on damages caused by large carnivores, and can be used to map where educational activities, to increase local tolerance, need to be targeted.

The data, collected by hunters through this project and combined with other data from around Europe, contributed to the Seminar of Transboundary Management of Large Carnivores.  The data also contributes towards building good relationships between local people and large carnivores in Norway, and towards the conservation of large carnivores in the Baltic region.  The findings of this project, and others, can be found on the relevant countries’ pages here:

http://www1.nina.no/lcie_new/pdf/634989782789145792_Bath%20COE%20Osilnica%20report.pdf

The Baltic Large Carnivore Project created a base for future carnivore conservation efforts, and initiated other projects that are still ongoing in other countries such as Latvia.

Project leader:

John Linnell (Senior Research Scientist, NINA). Email: john.linnell@nina.no

 Source:

http://www.nina.no/archive/nina/Rovdyr/Baltic%20large%20carnivore%20project.doc