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Study addresses the global need for human-wildlife coexistence

The Marsican brown bear, a rare subspecies of the European brown bear, lives in the forest about two hours from the bustling city of Rome. With their population hovering around 70, these endangered bears have a fragile coexistence with humans.

Recent developments in protection measures, combined with efforts in education and damage prevention, have boosted the Marsican brown bear population, but trouble remains. 

“Highways and poison baits, the latter laid out by truffle hunters to protect their assets from competitors’ truffle-sniffing dogs, have become grave threats to the bears,” notes a recent press release. Unfortunately, the attitude toward these large bears is not uniformly empathetic across their habitat.

Human-bear interactions

Paula Mayer, a Master’s student at ETH Zurich, has developed a coexistence model, plotting human-bear interaction areas on a map. Her work was supported and mentored by Professor Adrienne Grêt-Régamey.

“This project is an attempt to take a rational look at the landscape and figure out where and under what circumstances humans and large carnivores successfully coexist and where they don’t,” explained Mayer.

Mayer meticulously mapped 21 municipalities surrounding the Abruzzo National Park. She zeroed in on three municipalities to investigate in greater detail. 

Different attitudes across the region 

Some regions exhibited a harmonious relationship with the bears, but others – even in close proximity – displayed starkly contrasting views. 

“It depends on things like whether the people in the municipality have been in contact with bears for a long time, or whether they know these animals only from hearsay,” said Mayer. Misleading information often played a significant role in shaping these perceptions.

Human-bear coexistence is also linked to economic factors. Regions thriving on tourism view bears as potential attractions, given the surge in wildlife tourism in the Abruzzo National Park. 

By contrast, people in rural areas that rely on agriculture often feel vulnerable to bear interactions. “If you own only ten sheep and a bear kills one of them, you feel your livelihood is threatened,” said Mayer.

A global issue

Mayer believes that the “large carnivore problem” is the same everywhere. She said it’s mostly an urban-​rural conflict charged with emotion, and with a lot of symbolism projected onto the animals. “But it’s more about interpersonal issues and control; the wild animals only serve a symbolic function.”

For Mayer, the solution lies in a better understanding of local needs, backed by prompt governmental support. “Some people are angry because they’ve never been compensated for any damage caused by individual bears, despite promises to the contrary.”

Promoting harmony between humans and bears

Mayer’s coexistence model isn’t just an analytical tool. It offers a tangible method to assess the effectiveness of local measures in promoting harmony between humans and bears. 

By inputting real-time data, the model can predict potential coexistence areas and identify the gaps in existing measures. Remarkably, all of this complex computation took place on Mayer’s personal laptop.

An adaptable coexistence model

The model assimilates various factors from both human and bear perspectives. Mayer incorporated crucial insights by collaborating with experts from diverse fields and interviewing local inhabitants. 

The bear-centric variables span from their preferred habitats to potential threats. For the human perspective, the model accounts for a range of diverse aspects from agriculture to emotions regarding the bears.

Mayer believes the real strength of her model is its adaptability. “It is crucial to work with the people on the ground to incorporate the specific information from the local context into the model.” She noted that it can be applied to other animals that coexist with humans, such as wolves.

The research is published in the Journal for Conservation Biology.

More about human-wildlife coexistence

Human-wildlife coexistence refers to the peaceful and sustainable living of humans and wildlife in shared environments. As human populations grow and expand into new areas, interactions with wildlife are becoming more common, and these interactions can lead to conflicts.

Coexistence strategies may include creating protected areas for wildlife, implementing measures to reduce human-wildlife conflicts (like proper fencing, bear-proof containers, and overpasses for wildlife crossing), educating local communities about wildlife, and supporting alternative livelihoods that do not harm animals. 

By promoting understanding, respect, and responsible management, humans and wildlife can share landscapes in a way that meets the needs of both.

Marsican brown bear

The Marsican brown bear, also known as the Apennine brown bear, is a subspecies of the brown bear found in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. It’s one of the most critically endangered brown bear subspecies in the world. Here’s some information about it:


These bears primarily inhabit the Abruzzo-Lazio-Molise National Park and surrounding areas. This habitat provides a mix of forests and open grasslands, which support the bear’s varied diet.


Marsican brown bears are omnivores. Their diet includes berries, fruits, insects, small mammals, and occasionally livestock, which can lead to conflicts with local farmers.


The main threats to their survival include habitat fragmentation, human-wildlife conflicts (especially with livestock farmers), poaching, and road accidents. Also, their small population leads to genetic issues.

Conservation efforts

Several conservation initiatives have been put in place to protect the Marsican brown bear. These include increasing habitat connectivity, implementing compensation schemes for farmers who lose livestock to bears, educational programs to increase local support for bear conservation, and strict law enforcement against poaching.

The survival of the Marsican brown bear is a significant concern for conservationists. Ensuring their survival requires both local and international efforts to mitigate threats and bolster their numbers.


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