Why is Romania such a criminal country

Evidence of illegal bear trafficking : Why bear pups are particularly at risk in Romania

The laughter of the tormentors drowned out the whimpers of their victims. Pulled out of their cave, four terrified bear pups landed in the snow. In mid-February, in a forest in the Romanian district of Neamt, the men were jokingly filmed trying to determine the sex of the abused brown bears with a rough hand.

Their urge to put the bear videos online on Facebook has become the animal tormentors' undoing: The Romanian judiciary is now investigating four forest workers on suspicion of mistreating animals and destroying the nesting area of ​​the bear pups.

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During the police interrogation, the perpetrators assured that they had put the puppies where they had found them. But whether and how their victims survived the ordeal is uncertain. Despite an intensive search, animal rights activists and foresters were unable to find any trace of them. It remains unclear whether the mother animal found her very young cubs again, or whether these were victims of the cold, of wolves - or of humans. Because in Romania, where, according to government agencies, around 6000 brown bears still live - and thus most of Europe, there are increasing references to the illegal trade in bear pups.

According to the findings of local animal rights activists, the illegal trade in bear meat, hunting trophies and young live animals is flourishing. It is believed that these are only raised in order to then slaughter them. Another thesis is that the puppies end up on the Russian or Ukrainian black market.

With a hidden camera, reporters from the station PRO TV filmed local poachers as early as 2018, who promised to procure bear pups for several hundred euros per animal - a handover was not documented, however. There is hardly any solid evidence of the bear cubs trade, but the evidence is increasing, says Livia Cimpoeru from the environmental protection organization WWF in Bucharest to the Tagesspiegel.

Romania's government wants to act

Recordings of bear pups kept in private households appeared regularly on Romania's social media. Nationwide headlines made in 2019 the case of a forest worker in Harghita who was killed by the angry mother animal while attempting to steal bear pups.

With an action program launched in eleven European countries in 2020, the WWF is striving to improve the cross-border exchange of information between the judiciary and nature conservationists about illegal animal trade. Because Romania is no exception: in countries like the Czech Republic, Albania, Ukraine or Bosnia, there have been reports of trade in bear trophies, bear meat and live animals in recent years.

After a public outcry over the abused Neamt bear pups, at least the Romanian government seems to be finally listening to WWF's call for a more resolute prosecution of the illegal bear trade. If the hitherto unconfirmed suspicion of the bear cubs trade is confirmed, the Directorate for Organized Crime will take over the investigation, says Romania's Environment Minister Tanczos Barna and assures: "Nothing will be covered up in the investigation."

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