"Trash bin bears" seek space in Romania

Thu Oct 16, 2008 8:13pm EDT
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By Luiza Ilie

BRASOV, Romania (Reuters) - Sprawled on the side of a narrow road that winds up the Carpathian mountains in central Romania, a brown bear buries its snout in a paw, eyes peeking playfully at cars passing by.

As drivers pull over to take pictures, the bear strolls toward the cars, striking cute poses and hoping for food.

A few yards down the road, a large billboard urges tourists not to feed bears but across the street, open trash bags are scattered carelessly -- and invitingly -- across pine needles.

With half of Europe's brown bears -- roughly 6,000 -- living in the largely unspoilt Carpathian mountains, environmentalists and authorities are struggling to keep the wild animals and residents in mountain towns like Brasov safe from each other.

Several people, including foreign tourists, have been mauled to death in recent years by hungry or irritated animals, who come daily to towns and villages in the southern Carpathians in search of food.

The most recent death came in August when the torn body of a local man was found some 500 meters from the center of Brasov. Officials say bear sightings have risen in the past few years.

Bears forage through trash cans, nap in apartment buildings and have even broken into the grounds of pubs and hospitals.

The bears' natural habitat is being destroyed and increasingly fragmented by rampant construction for Romania's fast-developing tourism industry. And their feeding habits are changing as they become a high-adrenaline tourist attraction.   Continued...

<p>A bear walks in its enclosure in a reservation near Zarnesti, 250km north of Bucharest, August 11, 2008. REUTERS/Mihai Barbu</p>