Romania, which halted trophy hunting of its native carnivores in 2016, this week said it will allow the killing of 140 bears. The hunting quota was announced in response to reports of bear-human conflicts, with videos shared on social media showing people getting very close to wild bears to feed them or take selfies with them.

While making the announcement, Romanian Environment Minister Graţiela Gavrilescu also said she intends to support stronger measures to prevent people from feeding or otherwise attracting bears into situations of potential conflict with human beings.

“I sincerely say that I am disappointed and often stunned when I watch TV and see...that we are fueling this tendency to bring the bear closer to us and put us in danger instead of leaving them alone, that we are throwing our waste and thus give the bear the opportunity to descend from the mountain and often enter cities where the citizens wouldn’t expect to meet a bear on a public road or in their own gardens,” Ms. Gavrilescu said.

The HSUS and HSI have made humane approaches to mitigating human-wildlife conflict a key focus of our work globally, and we have experience and expertise in this dimension of animal protection, which requires taking account of public safety, animal behavior and human behavior, among other aspects. We believe there is a more peaceful way forward for Romania – one that does not involve killing its wildlife.

As Ms. Gavrilescu pointed out in her remarks, the difficulty has less to do with bear behavior than it does with human behavior, and we fully support her decision to fine those who try to feed or deliberately attract bears. In that sense, Romania is no different than most of the places where we’ve tried to address this challenge. Many people are not aware of the importance of disposing of food wastes properly. In addition, there are continuing difficulties with people deliberately feeding bears or trying to take selfies with them. Such human behavior is largely responsible for the increase in human-bear conflicts in Romania, and the resulting calls for the lethal management of bear populations.

It's worth remembering, too, that tourists have a lot to do with this problem, and that’s one of the reasons that we’ve supported efforts to educate the broad global public about the right ways to encounter animals in the wild, and the measures that each and every one of us can take to ensure the safety and well-being of those animals.

We are especially hopeful that we will be able to help Romania find a more peaceful solution to its problem because this week we appointed Humane Society International's first country director there. Strengthening the prospects for human coexistence with large carnivores will be a top priority for the country director's work moving forward.

In the coming months, HSI will establish local, community-based projects in Romania to take humane steps to mitigate the conflicts between humans and bears. We recognize that there are some good approaches in place already. But we will draw on our experience from elsewhere around the globe to take things to the next level, for example, by pressing for the use of bear-proof waste disposal systems that will discourage bears from coming into towns to look for food.

There is also an urgent need for better public education on how to avoid contact with bears. When the bears remain in the forests and interact sparingly with humans, then there is less damage caused to property and less risk posed to human safety. Through our new country office, we’ll work with local authorities in Romania to find creative and locally-tailored solutions to reduce human-bear conflicts.

In 2016, Romania won the admiration of animal protection advocates worldwide when it halted the hunting of all brown bears, wolves and other native carnivores on its lands - a welcome step in a country where Romanian communist president Nicolae Ceaușescu once slaughtered perhaps 400 bears during his 25-year reign. This European nation, blessed with rich wildlife, has since been a beacon of hope as we have worked to put in place policies against trophy hunting here in the United States and elsewhere in the world. We strongly believe there is a better way forward to address the country's bear-human conflict, and in coming months, we’ll be at work in Romania, and elsewhere, to ensure this kind of problem finds a humane solution.