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Designing and testing bear-proof bins

We have improved our prototype container for securing refuse so that bears cannot get to it. The container had already proven effective with a problem bear in the High Tatras in spring, but during trials with Kubo, an enormous adult male bear at Košice Zoo in July, some deficiencies became apparent. Together with the manufacturer we made further improvements and repairs, which took some time. This time, the container remained undamaged and two adult male bears were completely unable to get to food secured inside. Since the summer we have been talking to local residents and trying to cooperate with officials in areas where such bear-proof bins need to be installed. We hope that in spite of several complications, and sometimes a lack of interest, we will manage to install several such containers by the end of the year.

During the night of 11th to 12th May 2007 for the first time we tested a specially designed bear-proof refuse bin at a hotel in the High Tatras where a young bear has been a frequent visitor. The hotel, together with several chalets, is located next to the main road from Tatranská Lomnica to Poprad. The young bear got used to visiting refuse bins at the hotel which it can easily open, not far from forest cover.

Claims in the media about how the behaviour of the 2-year old bear had scared tourists away turned out to be untrue. According to our observations, tourists saw the bear as an interesting attraction and were not afraid even to approach it to take photographs. We saw how this bear was not afraid to approach tourists sitting around a cooking fire, where he was obviously attracted by the smell of sausages. An employee of the hotel told us that the tourists threw food to it. It is this kind of irresponsible behaviour that could make the bear a danger to people.

In order to reduce such cases, we had a special container made, which is closed in such a way that only a person can open it. Together with staff of the Tatras National Park administration we installed it at the hotel and filled it with refuse from the kitchen so that we could test it and, if necessary, make improvements. The bear tried to open the container several times during the night, but was not successful and so tried its luck elsewhere. It could open the hotel's original containers easily and even climbed right into them.

This experience has confirmed for us that the problem of bears becoming a nuisance can be solved by the use of preventive measures. However, this requires that tourists, hoteliers and other people living in areas with bears are sufficiently informed and take an interest in a more responsible approach to this issue. Similar to how, for example, in Poland they have been using electric fences around refuse containers for several years already and the results are very good. Containers must be secured so that bears cannot open them or enclosed in an area where they cannot get to them. It is absolutely unacceptable to feed bears in any way that encourages undesirable behaviour. Loss of wariness can cause even a small bear to become more bold in seeking food and so it can become dangerous to people. In the end, the bear will also suffer: spending the rest of its life in captivity, which is what awaited the young bear in the Tatras, or being shot.