European Natura 2000 Award
“Winning this Award is a great honour”, said Mr Tzovlas after receiving the Award for Callisto’s work significantly increasing local tolerance to bears in Greece.
The district of Kastoria, in Greece, is of strategic importance for the brown bear, since it functions as a communication corridor between the bear sub-populations in Greece (the southernmost in Europe) and the Western Balkans. It also demonstrates a number of typical problems concerning the coexistence of bears and humans: traffic accidents on the E45 Motorway involving bears and cars, as well as bears visiting settlements during winter and early spring, when natural food sources are scarce, which increases the risk of bear-human conflicts and causes fear and anxiety amongst the locals.
CALLISTO, an environmental NGO, has a long presence in the area. Since 2009, it has been working in partnership with local authorities, the association of farming cooperatives and the Development Agency of Kastoria, to address these challenges and to improve conditions for bear - human coexistence. Mr. Koutis acknowledged that bringing in the right stakeholders at the right time, had been key to Callisto’s success: “With the involvement of local stakeholders, the activities we have started together have the potential to continue in the future, beyond the life or the project itself”.
The various measures set up in order to reduce conflicts with bears in rural areas included the establishment of a network of guard dog owners and interested stockbreeders, the installation of innovative ‘bear-proof’ waste-bins and the mounting of electric fences to protect beehives and orchards. Measures on the newly-built motorway to prevent collisions between bears and vehicles included the installation of specially reinforced three-meter tall fences along the motorway, the mounting of 22 road signs designed to alert drivers to the presence of bears and the placing of wildlife reflectors to prevent collisions with vehicles. Additionally, a dedicated Bear Emergency Response Team was established that can react immediately if a bear causes an accident. The Response Team also implements awareness raising actions and organises Crisis Management Committees at national and regional level.
Thanks to the partnership, the expertise and the dedication of the people involved, as well as the support of the EU LIFE fund, bear fatalities have been drastically reduced to 2-3 a year from the initial number of 8-9 and local tolerance towards the animals has increased considerably.
Once people became aware of the project actions and their effects, public opinion changed significantly. The drastic reduction in traffic accidents caused by collisions with bears in the road network as well as other conservation and awareness raising actions, have all increased the tolerance of the locals towards bears. The project completion survey demonstrated that 76% of the respondents considered the use of prevention measures effective; 32% stated that they now actively participated in efforts to protect bears.
The bear now has a more secure future thanks to Callisto’s work which is being expanded into other regions through a number of follow-up projects. “Most of all, the recognition of our work through this Award, gives us the strength to go on in what haven’t been easy times for conservation and the environment in Greece. Starting this project at the peak of the economic crisis meant that many people questioned why we were putting money into saving bears when people were having such a difficult time. Our response was that the environment is not just for us but for the next generation. Bears are environmental indicators of the health of the forest ecosystem”, Mr. Tvolas finished.