The main purpose for the existence of Stunning Slovakia is to help to fund the existence of Project Bear (Projekt Medved' in Slovak).
Project Bear aims to develop and expand a greater knowledge of Slovakia’s magnificent wildlife especially its populations of bears.
These animals have traditionally been seen as a danger to the community and the most sought after target for sport hunting.
Our hope iss that through a better understanding of the behaviour of these animals, they will be regarded as magnificent natural assets -
something to be proud of and to protect.
Although Slovakia is known to have a relatively high population of bears the exact numbers are uncertain.
With specific regard to bears’ territory, estimates vary from 3000-5000 ha to areas that are a tenth of that size. In some of the limestone areas
of the High Tatras we know that the density of bears is very high. However we also believe that there is more than enough natural food
for the bears as the average litter size seems to be higher than elsewhere. It is theories such as these that we are trying to confirm
by conducting this research.
The main tools that we are using are GPS collars. Recent advances in animal collaring techniques have vastly improved data collection for
all mammals, particularly those dwelling in forests and with larger ranges. The new generation of GPS collars allows animals such
as bears to be monitored on an hourly basis wherever it is they roam.
Project Bear is working with the High Tatras National Park Authorities in a programme to collar brown bears in the Western and Belianske
Tatras and for the first time and to take a comprehensive look at their lives. The first bear was collared in October 2008.
The extensive data collected through the GPS collars will also provide us with a much deeper knowledge of critical habitats used by the bears
and their fundamental needs. We will also attain a much more accurate delineation of bear corridors and crucial drinking and feeding locations.
In support of the GPS information we believe that observation of non-collared bears is essential so the team partakes in bear watching
as frequently as possible.
We will also be using camera traps to monitor scratching posts and animal paths through the mountains. This will provide us with
information about other wildlife, it will also complement the collar data and provide us with a comprehensive insight into the lives
of the High Tatras bears.
A large part of the project involves passing on this information about bear behaviour. Human/bear conflict can be a problem in some areas. A particular bear from a central part of High Tatras has been teaching two generations of her offspring to visit villages, mountain cottages, gardens and other places where easy sources of food can be found; usually contained in rubbish bins.
Project Bear is keen to promote strategies than can prevent this happening in future. We are currently liaising with local communities and schools to identify what the attitudes to bears are and what realistic solutions can be put in place. We also aim to introduce the idea that bear watching tourism is a viable source of income for these communities.
We also aim to collar a ‘problem’ bear to see ascertain facts such as frequency of visits to villages and what proportion of their food is non-natural.
Occasionally such animals have to be shot due to them becoming a real problem. A long term goal of Project Bear is to set up a large sanctuary to allow bears to be relocated instead of killed. Hopefully it will become a centre of bear research, youth education programmes and a wonderful means by which to see these animals acting as naturally as is possible in a micro-natural environment.
As well as helping to fund the project, on our tours each participant has the opportunity to help in expanding our knowledge of bear behaviour. Every tour begins with an extensive briefing from the Project Bear team and each person is encouraged to fully participate in monitoring bear movements and behaviour whilst out in the field. All observations are helpful, especially those of prints and dung and measurement of tree scratchings. We believe that this interactive approach makes this one of the premium bear watching experiences in Europe