Food provisioning to wildlife is an issue of increasing conservation concern due to its consequences on species and ecosystems. Humans have increased the amount of food available to wildlife and its spatio-temporal predictability; about 30–40% of all food produced in the world is wasted (1). One of these practices, quite widespread, is the artificial feeding of game animals. Here, we take the brown bear Ursus arctos as a model species to review the magnitude of artificial feeding in Europe and the documented effects on the ecology and behavior of the species. In most of the European countries where brown bears are hunted, artificial feeding is applied, mostly to facilitate hunting. However, official justifications include keeping bears away from human settlements, preventing damages and other conflicts, monitoring the population status and trend, increasing the habitat capacity, allowing medical treatment and facilitating photographing. In countries where bears are not hunted, although they are not officially fed, they intensively use the artificial food provided for ungulates. Over decades, the amount of food served to bears both intentionally and unintentionally keeps increasing. Moreover, the number of feeding sites is also on the rise and artificial feeding is moving from feeding in certain emergency situations to an almost year-round feeding (2). In many European countries this practice is completely unregulated or the rules are often violated. Bear feeding for photographing is in most countries out of control. Corn, beetroots, grain, carrots and even leftovers from the markets are often found in the forest to feed bears and other wildlife. Recent scientific evidence shows that this practice causes profound changes in the ecology and behavior of bears (i.e. 3). Researchers have documented changes in bear diet, alteration of movements, disruption of winter denning, increases in bear body mass, earlier sexual maturity of females and facilitation of pathogen transmission at feeding sites. The provision of artificial food to bears is conducted at country or regional level, not at the population level. So, often bears are artificially fed on one side of the border, but not on the other. The rules for feeding, when exist, are different on neighboring countries. At least ten countries in Europe feed bears for hunting, three for viewing and photographing and at least 18 countries feed bears unintentionally with food provided for ungulates. We present the results of a comprehensive survey of all European countries and discuss the potential strategies to tackle this issue.
1. Oro, D. et al. 2013. Ecology Letters 16: 1501–1514.
2. Mysterud, A. 2010. Journal of Applied Ecology 47: 920–925.
3. Selva N. et al. 2017. Basic and Applied Ecology 24: 68- 76.