Wednesday, December 02, 2020
   
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Hunting and poaching

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The brown bear is a globally endangered animal species. It has been placed under protection by several international conventions, the EU Treaty and Bulgaria’s national legislation. Its main habitats are also protected. Some of these fall within the territories of the Pirin, Rila and Central Balkan national parks. In accordance with European legislation, Bulgaria implements a Brown Bear Action Plan, which defines measures for the conservation of the species and for harnessing the support of people living close to its natural habitats.

Hunting brown bears is forbidden by law. By way of exception, the law allows for several bears to be culled annually, only after they have officially been proven to be problem animals. Poaching is punishable by a fine of up to BGN 5,000 (€2,500).

Following the liberalization of the political regime in Bulgaria, the number of gun owners has doubled. Today, the number of legally owned hunting guns and rifles in this country stands at over 140,000. Illegal bear killings and other incidents involving bears in Bulgaria are most commonly reported during boar hunting. A wounded bear is very dangerous and prone to attack not just its own hunters but any humans that end up in its path.

According to unofficial data regarding the size of the bear population in Bulgaria, it seems as though the expected natural growth of some 200 cubs per year vanishes into thin air, as there have been no changes in the official numbers for the past 25 years. The only explanation experts have for this is poaching, which has been flourishing. Bears get chased and fired at not just by regular hunters but by anyone who legally or illegally, owns a hunting gun, a scoped rifle, even an assault weapon. They are poached for trophies, by illicit hunting expeditions or simply by people who wish to show off that they, too, can take that ‘prestige shot’. Despite all bans, it is commonplace to see bear rugs, heads or whole stuffed animals adorning hotel lobbies, taverns and restaurants – a practice long abandoned in the advanced world owing to the availability of life-like replicas.

People of the 21st century need neither a bear’s skin, nor its meat or fat to survive. Removed from our natural environment, we humans often forget that we too are a biological species, rather than a technological artifact; the more we lose touch with nature, the more we place at risk our very existence. Modern firearms have long surpassed the survival abilities of even the toughest and most agile animals in the wild, like the bear, turning hunting into cold-blooded murder. There is no excuse for the illegal hunting of this valuable animal that graces our mountains with its presence. Humans should not play God, upsetting with impunity the balance of things in nature. It is in the best interest of the local communities to stop well-armed intruders from ruining the natural wealth of their mountain.

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