As a tour guide, I often tell jokes about bears. Are there really bears in Croatia? Are they dangerous?
Yes, there are bears in Croatia. About 1000 of them. They live in the mountainous regions of Central Croatia, starting from the Gorski Kotar region and the Lika region (The Plitvice Lakes National Park) in the north and as far south as the mountains of Mosor and Biokovo in the Split region, Dalmatia.
Are they dangerous? Well, from the year 2000 til 2015 there were approximately 664 attacks of bears on humans in the WORLD. Out of that number, only 3 attacks happened in Croatia. So it’s much more likely you would be attacked by dogs. Or humans.
Yes, there is a chance you will meet a bear in Croatia. But, what kind of bears are those? What should you do if you encounter one? Read on!
What Kind Of Bears Live In Croatia?
I was surprised to find out that our bears, THE BROWN BEARS (Ursus arctos), are genetically identical to the North American Grizzly bears. They just stay smaller.So small that they can fit to the Croatian 5 Kuna coin.
BTW, this could be a perfect souvenir to take home from Croatia.
In most Croatian shops it’s sold for 7,50 kunas.
In money exchange offices in Croatia it can cost as much as 10 Euros.
Well, how small is that? An average female weighs 100 kilos (220 pounds), whereas their partners can reach up to 150 kilos (330 pounds).
However, if the bear you meet exceeds those measurements, consider yourself fortunate. Only rarely can brown bears in Croatia reach 300 kilos (660 pounds) and be up to 2,2 meters tall (7,21 ft). (I am 1,88 meters (6,16 ft) tall)!
Are Bears In Croatia Dangerous?
Well, you are statistically 160 times more likely to be bitten by a dog. And whooping 90 THOUSAND times more likely to be attacked by a human.
In August 2019, a man was attacked by a bear on the Velebit mountain. Fortunately, the attack wasn’t fatal, because the man had two dogs with him who courageously defended their owner. Still, even though the man managed to climb to a tree, the bear bit off one of his fingers.
A detail of the the portal in Trogir, at the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, made in 1272 by Master Radovan, shows a fight between a man and a bear.
You don’t want this to happen to you, do you?
Unless you want a special memento of bear’s 42 teeth on your neck. What a lovely souvenir it would make!
What Should You Do If You Meet A Bear?
If you walk through a forest where bears live, follow these rules:
- move in a way that does not surprise the animal because it can attack us in defence. Instead, we need to talk, listen to music and talk to someone so that the bear would notice us and flee.
- if we see a bear at a distance and it does not change its behaviour despite seeing us there, but “goes his way”, we can continue to observe him, without disturbance, in silence
- if we come across a bear in relative proximity, and it has not yet seen us yet, we should retreat in silence and go away from him it. After we’ve walked away, we should start making noise to let the bear know that we are close. He will go away from us (Let’s hope!)
- we must not leave any food behind. The bears may become used to us and come close to humans. They might start to associate our scent to that of food. And you know what that means!
- Always move along marked hiking trails that animals know and avoid. We should let wild animals live undisturbed in their forest home.
- Do not follow the bear to the den because if it is a female, and there are cubs in the den, it is very likely that she will attack us or try to move the cubs away, to their detriment.
- it is especially dangerous to try to get close to cubs because there is always a mother bear with them that can attack you
- if a bear is nearby, you should calm down. Do not make any noise, do not look it in the eyes and wait for the bear to leave.
Where Do The Bears Live? What Do They Eat?
Bears live in parts of forests where there is no human economic activity such as timber felling or farming. In such forests they can find enough food to get ready for their hibernation. Although they are mostly herbivorous (vegetarian), they would eat everything they find in the woods.
In the spring, when bears stop hibernating, they start looking for newly sprouted plants, young grass and plants such as bear onions and clover.
In summer, bears feast on various edible forest berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. When they ripen in early autumn, their favourite food are wild and farm fruits. It is for this reason bears are often attracted to orchards, where they feast on apples, pears and plums.
In late autumn, while preparing for hibernation, bears mostly eat hazelnuts, chestnuts and acorns, as well as rose hips, which increase the subcutaneous fat tissue needed for hibernation, as they will not eat anything for months.
In addition to plant food, bears sometimes attack game such as young deer, venison and even farm animals. And tourists, of course.
When we see bears in pictures, so mighty and powerful, we might think they are sluggish and slow. However, bears can walk up to 30 km in one night and can run at a speed of 50 km / h. However, when it comes to looking for food, they are very lazy and comfortable. They will look for food in a way that is the least difficult for them.
You may want to keep that in mind if you decide to stay behind your guide and the rest of your group during the hike in the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Croatia.
Trees that fall down are left to rot naturally, thereby increasing the biodiversity of the park.
Bears occasionally make their dens beneath such trees.
Meet The Croatian Brown Bear
An acquaintance of mine told me what happened to him couple of years ago.
He was going home from work and decided to take a shortcut through the woods. Unexpectedly, a bear appeared in front of him!
My friend was just about to run as fast as he can, when he noticed that the bear wasn’t moving. The bear was caught in a trap set by the hunters (believe it or not, bears in Croatia are so numerous that hunting for bears is occasionally allowed. Bears are eaten in a stew (!) or turned into a taxidermic exhibit, like the one I took a selfie with).
Anyhow, my friend felt compassion and pity for the poor beast and decided to release it from the trap. He found a long stick and carefully set the bear free.
A bit disoriented, the bear limped into the bushes.
The end? Well, not yet.
My friend got home, had lunch and told his children about the encounter he had. He was relaxing on his couch, watching TV and drinking his habitual cop of Turkish coffee, as he heard some noise coming from outside.
For a while he waited to hear someone knocking at the door, but nothing happened. So he got up, put on his slippers and opened the door.
There was nobody outside. He looked to the left. No one. To the right. Nothing.
And then he looked down. Down on the door mat there were two jars of honey.