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Brown bears Ursus arctos were historically persecuted and almost eradicated from southern Europe in the twentieth century as a result of hunting and direct persecution. The effects of human-induced mortality were exacerbated by other threats, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, due to the expansion of human populations. As a result, nowadays there are only small fragmented populations of bears in southern Europe. Brown bears in the Cantabrian (north-western Spain), Apennine (central Italy), and Pindos (north-western Greece) mountains represent three examples of small and threatened bear populations in human-modified landscapes. Most of their range is characterized by high human densities, widespread agricultural activities, livestock raising and urban development, connected by dense networks of transport infrastructures. This has resulted in a reduction of continuous habitat suitable for the species. Here, we summarize the past and present histories and fates of these three populations as examples on how the coexistence of bears and people in human-modified landscapes can take different turns depending on human attitudes.
This chapter comprises the following sections: names, taxonomy, subspecies and distribution, descriptive notes, habitat, movements and home range, activity patterns, feeding ecology, reproduction and growth, behavior, parasites and diseases, status in the wild, and status in captivity.
Conflicts between humans and bears have occurred since prehistory. Through time, the catalogue of human–bear conflicts (HBC) has been changing depending on the values and needs of human societies and their interactions with bears. Even today, conflict situations vary among the eight species of bears and geographically across these species’ ranges. This results in a broad range of interactions between bears and humans that may be considered as conflicts, including: (1) predation of domestic or semiwild animals, including bees, hunting dogs, and pet animals; (2) damage due to foraging on cultivated berries, fruits, agricultural products, and the tree bark in forest plantations; (3) economic loss due to destruction of beehives, fences, silos, houses, and other human property; (4) bear attacks on humans causing mild or fatal trauma; (5) bluff charges, bear intrusions into residential areas; and (6) vehicle collisions with bears and traffic accidents. In this chapter we aim to outline the principal types of HBC and geographical differences in the occurrence of conflicts and the coexistence between people and bears.
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