Bear attacks have made Slovakian headlines recently, and politicians can’t agree about how serious they are. The liberal-conservative coalition’s failure to live up to its campaign promises is making matters worse.
Slovakia is currently plagued by serious political and societal problems. The war in Ukraine has divided the country into pro-western and pro-Russian camps. The country is also divided economically. The western part of the country is relatively well developed and wealthy, while the eastern part of the country is poor.
But just ahead of the parliamentary elections in September, which followed a slew of government crises, the country appears to have an even bigger problem: bears. The animals have repeatedly made headlines in the last few months due to a slew of brutal attacks on humans. Just a few weeks ago, there was a gruesome bear attack that left the vicitims severely injured.
Now it appears that bears are being used as scapegoats for all of Slovakia’s other problems. They’ve even become an election campaign topic, and almost all politicians have spoken about problems with bears in the past few weeks.
The deadly bear attack in June 2021
Several bear attacks on humans in Slovakia were reported in July of this year. One of the victims was Kristian Sedler, a farmer who lives in the village of Haj, which lies northwest of the middle-sized town Banska Bystrica.
In mid-July, a bear attacked the young man right on his farm, injuring his arms and legs before he was rescued by his mother Micaela, who managed to chase the animal away with a pitchfork.
“A bear jumped out at me from the grass,” Sedler, 20, told the Slovakian media. “He stood up on his hind legs and attacked me! He started biting me and scratching me with his claws.”
The attacks aren’t always so dramatic. Sometimes, a bear walks through a residential area or scares hikers on marked trails in the mountains, and the total number of bear attacks on humans is less than 10 a year.
But there was also a deadly one that occurred more than two years ago. In June 2021, the body of a man who appeared to have mauled by a bear was found in the village Liptovska Luzna.
Bears are drawn to open waste bins
Even though the most recent attacks weren’t nearly so serious, the opposition in Slovakia has turned the topic into a campaign issue. It’s being framed as a man versus beast issue, with protecting humans and carrying out controlled shooting of bears being common talking points.
“The legal protection of bears is out of control, and politicians should start using common sense and changing the rules,” said opposition politician Richard Takac in a video.
Takac is the vice-chair of the SMER party, the country’s largest opposition party – which is supposedly social democratic, but also holds right-wing nationalistic and pro-Russian positions. SMER and its leader Robert Fico supposedly have close ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party.
In reality, 46 bears were shot with government approval in 2010. In 2017 that number was 22, and in 2019 only 10 were shot. But according to experts, the number of bears hasn’t dramatically increased in recent years, and it’s unavoidable that they’ll sometimes come in contact with humans. Some 1300 bears live in the mountain and forest regions of Slovakia currently.
Environmentalists believe the biggest problem is the open trash cans in cities and villages in the Bratislava Foothills. Bears are drawn to areas settled by humans that produce a lot of food waste.
Finding a long-term solution
That the opposition is indirectly accusing the governing party of putting the safety of bears above the safety of humans might seem pretty far-fetched, but governing politicians are under enormous pressure.
Boris Kollar is the Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic and a member of the We Are Family Party, which belonged to the coalition that finally dissolved earlier this year. Kollar believes bears should be removed from the country’s list of protected animals.
Minister of the Environment Milan Chrenko, who’s currently serving as part of Slovakia’s interim caretaker government, also acknowledges the problem.
“Some people are afraid to go to work because of the bears. Athletes are avoiding the woods, and it’s also a problem for farmers,” Chrenko told the Slovakian media.
The country’s liberal president Zuzana Caputova is trying to moderate the debate. “I believe the worries of mountain and foothill residents are justified, because encounters with bears often end with serious injuries,” Caputova has stated.
Due to her efforts, the police and nature preservation teams have joined forces to kill or relocate bears that target and attack humans.
Experts don’t think this solution will work long-term. Jaroslav Slastan, an expert in bears who works for an intervention team put together by the Slovakian Ministry of Environment, told the portal Postoj that securing trash bins could help reduce the number of animals who wander into areas with humans.
There are also hunters that intentionally lure bears with food in order to shoot them more easily. Slatsan maintains that the only way to avoid problems is to not provide the bears with anything to eat.
Source : DW