Co-existing with bears in the 21st century: Difficulties and achievements
The district of Kastoria in north-west Greece is vital for the brown bear population in the broader region, as it functions as a communication corridor between the bear sub-populations in Greece and the Western Balkans.
However, the construction of a 72-km highway branch (KA45) in the first decade of the 21st century, connecting the Egnatia highway corridor with the Greek-Albanian border area, in combination with the existing national road network, had severe consequences on the brown bear habitat and population integrity in the area. Within just 6 months of opening that branch, five traffic fatalities with bear victims were recorded, putting drivers’ lives and thus road safety at high risk. At the same time, there was an increased number of visits by bears to human settlements in search of food sources linked to human activity. This resulted in more interactions with bears and created a negative view of the bears in the local population.
Seeking to reduce fatalities on the roads and negative human perceptions was essential to ensuring long-term bear conservation. This is why CALLISTO, an environmental NGO, in partnership with local authorities and the Development Agency of Kastoria started an initiative, supported by the EU LIFE fund, aiming to address these challenges and improve the co-existence between brown bears and the local human population in northern Greece.
Among the actions implemented are the installation of road warning signs, technical deterrents (reflectors) and new reinforced fencing along the KA45 highway, in close cooperation with road authorities. Innovative mitigation measures, such as bear-proof refuse containers to deter bears from approaching human settlements, were also adopted. Well-established damage prevention measures, such as electric fences, were also disseminated among farmers. A Bear Emergency Team and a network of Livestock Guarding Dog owners have also been set up, and an extensive communication campaign carried out.
When the results of project actions and interventions became visible, public opinion began to change and the locals’ tolerance towards bears significantly increased; traffic incidents also decreased.