Well, another month, another bear/skier run-in.

In early March, a Eurasian brown bear approached a group of skiers enjoying the slopes at the Predeal Ski Resort in central Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. A ski instructor who attempted to draw the bear away found himself chased downhill for upwards of three minutes, capturing some footage in the midst of it:

You’d think this would be a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, but in fact this is somehow the same resort’s second bear-dogging-skier routine of the year. In late January, a brown bear ran after a downhiller who ended up shedding his backpack and thus distracting his hulking pursuer.

(It’s worth pointing out here that, generally speaking, dropping your pack when facing down a bear is not recommended: For one thing, if said pack contains food, the bear may be rewarded for confronting you and come to associate people with edible treats. For another, playing dead — the recommended course of action in a defensive attack by a brown bear — is safer for you if you’ve got a pack buffering your body. Then again, you shouldn’t run from any bear — and, ideally, not ski away from one, either, not that you’re typically expecting a bear to materialise on a downhill course.)

In late January, a brown bear ran after a downhiller who ended up shedding his backpack to distract the hulking pursuer.

Ion Zaharia, a spokesperson for the Brasov County Police Department, told ABC News that the bear in the more recent footage was the brother of the January bear, offspring of a female (sow) bear also known to authorities. It’s hard not to think these bears, if indeed on the younger side, aren’t exhibiting a bit more playful spunkiness and inexperience rather than true aggression – though any such encounters have the potential to be dangerous, and certainly for both skiers’ and bruins’ sakes aren’t something anyone wants to see become regular events.

Zaharia had told ABC News after the January incident, “We are considering to relocate the bear, who should be hibernating now, anyway, but in recent years we have more bears confronting skiers in winter.”

A more injurious incident took place in early February on the other side of the world, when a backcountry skier in the mountains outside of Haines, Alaska was mauled by a North American brown bear. The victim was part of a group of three trekking up a snowy mountainside to ski down, only to stumble upon the winter den of a sow protective of her cubs within.

“The third guy sees the snow blow open and fur coming at him,” Carl Koch, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, told the Anchorage Daily News. “He’s the one that got hurt.”

The skier tumbled downslope and, appropriately, played dead, and the bear left him with non-fatal injuries. A United States Coast Guard helicopter alerted by satellite messenger airlifted him to safety.

But back to Romania: The country claims the largest population of brown bears in the European Union, though the size of that population — mainly located in the Carpathians and their foothills — has been a point of dispute. The government reckons it at 6,000-plus, but some biologists have questioned the accuracy of its surveying methods and warned of the likelihood for overestimations.

Some believe Romania’s bear number far fewer; others — including some hunters, game managers, and farmers who believe the country’s 2016 ban on the trophy hunting of large carnivores has resulted in a bruin boom — contend that the government estimate’s are low. (The swearing-in this past December of Barna Tanczos as Romania’s Minister of Environment, Waters, and Forests alarmed environmentalists, who pointed to comments the politician made in 2015 suggesting the country had more than 10,000 bears and that, “We cannot turn Romania into the zoo of Europe.”)

Pointing to increased bear reports, livestock depredation, and occasional attacks on humans — brown bears in Romania killed two people and injured 50 last year, according to RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty — some critics call for more culling of bears. Conservationists counter such sightings and conflicts don’t necessarily indicate bear overpopulation, but more likely suggest extensive logging and other habitat fragmentation is forcing animals into developed areas to forage and disperse, and also may stem from the ease with which people these days can nab bears — including ski-resort ones — on their cellphone cameras. 


Image © Frank Vassen