A spate of deadly bear attacks in Romania has raised fears that the population of Europe’s largest protected carnivore is increasing beyond control.

Three men have been killed in little over a month in this East European country that hosts the Continent’s biggest number of brown bears. “The bear population has increased and it needs to be reduced,” warns gamekeeper Karoly Pal. The three deaths in the past few weeks bring to at least six the number of fatalities this year, with scores of non-fatal attacks also reported. By comparison, 11 people were killed by bears in Romania between 2000 and 2015.

People are saying that there are too many bears, that you can’t produce any crops anymore. People are forced to abandon agriculture and their land – and they are afraid to go outside the villages. Since the trophy hunting ban in 2016, accidents and incidents with bears have been on the increase including damaged cars, damage to farmers fields, killed livestock and collisions on roadways.

In this case the government and science are at war with the conservationists who want the hunting ban to continue. “There is almost no kind of management in place by authorities. We really have no idea how many bears there are,” he says. The estimates are generated through out of date methods and are probably far off the mark.

Romanian lawmakers passed a bill in September that would allow the hunting of brown bears for a five-year period. But the move has angered conservationists, and a petition against the bill has so far gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

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