A recent paper in Science magazine ‘Recovery of large carnivores in Europe’s modern human-dominated landscapes’ shows that large carnivores in Europe can share the same landscape as humans. The paper, published in December 2014 and authored by 76 researchers from 26 countries is not the first to show that large carnivores can co-exist with people, however their results show that the land-sharing model, in contrast to wilderness and national park strategies elsewhere in the world, can be successful on a continental scale.
Four species of large carnivores are present in Europe – brown bears, gray wolves, European lynx and wolverines. Approximately one-third of mainland Europe has at least one species of large carnivore. Ten populations of brown bear are found in Europe, over 22 countries and with a population size of approximately 17,000 individuals. Ten populations of wolves are also present, across 28 countries with around 12,000 individuals. European Lynx is found in 23 countries, with eleven populations composed of 9,000 animals. The rarest species is the wolverine, which is only found in three countries in northern Europe, with approximately 1,250 individuals spread across two populations. Wolves are considered to be the most successful species in adapting to human-dominated landscapes, while wolverines are the least successful, partly due to being constrained by climatic conditions – they are only found in northern countries in high altitudes where there are low human densities. Most species have stable or increasing populations within their ranges.
The success of large carnivore populations in Europe is partly due to the environmental movement from the 1970’s onwards, and the Bern Convention and Habitats Directive have provided legal protection for large carnivores in most European countries. The biggest problems have arisen in some countries where large carnivores have previously been eradicated or where animal husbandry practices have evolved towards new production schemes. Poaching is also an issue in some countries, such as Austria where a re-introduced population of brown bears was eradicated.
Predation of livestock by large carnivores is also a major issue, which can be minimised by both traditional methods such as shepherding, guard dogs and night corrals, and newer technologies such as electric fences.
Rewilding Europe and Large Carnivore Initiative Europe have recently signed a partnership agreement to work together to maintain healthy populations of large carnivores across Europe.