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srijeda, 30. travnja 2014.

Kuterevo Volunteers, Bears, Wolves, Lynx & Wildlife Conservation In Croatia

Croatian Brown Bears chilling out and hanging around the Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary.

I came across this 'Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary' news story a couple of years ago, then recently came upon it again and so decided to quickly throw in some information and pics, also because perhaps people don't even know that there are bears in Croatia. I also have a soft spot for the bears, wolves, lynxes and the many other animals that roam and inhabit Croatian forests and had been in danger of extinction in the last century. In a nutshell, this bear sanctuary has many volunteers that come in from other parts of Europe to spend their summers there, but it's not all just eating, suntanning, having fun, frolicking with the bears, watching Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, Deliverance, Cabin Fever, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blair Witch and other camping in the forest movies before roasting sausages at the midnight bonfires as some of the photos may suggest. Instead there's plenty of digging and raking and cutting and other laborious work that they do. All for the bears so that they may live.

This is a great project I think, because remember boys and girls, bears are people too. According to the various information sites I came across, the Croatian bear population has fortunately been steadily rising to safe levels again over the years, safe as in bears not in danger of extinction. According to the video information and the bear count statistics /i came across their numbers in Croatia right now are around 1200 bears, which is good news and a very healthy number. (because that's more than enough bears roaming around in the forests to keep us safe in the cities and towns, protecting us from the various forest ghouls and other lurking goblin-humanoid creatures). But there's always more to be done, of course illegal hunting/poaching can have a dramatic effects on the bear populations, so keeping this bear haven up and running is very important.

The main core areas for the brown bear range in Croatia stretches from the eastern Hercegovina border in Croatia, along the Dinaric Mountain Range and extending up to the foothills of the Alps. This is where most of the bears are because the area is more rugged, covered by dense forests and has a relatively low density of people, who mostly inhabit the valleys. It even now has one of the highest brown bear population densities ever recorded and is extremely important because it is the main source for the natural expansion of bears into the Alps, and because it has become the source for all reintroductions of this species into Western Europe. (if these Croatian bears disappear, then they'll soon disappear elsewhere also). That's why the purpose of this Kuterevo Bears sanctuary is to look after those bears who lost their mothers while still very young cubs, and who would otherwise not have survived in the wild on their own.

Bears, wolves, lynxes and the other land mammals (as well as the birds and fish of course) are as important as other natural resources. Conservation rightfully also includes animals "in their natural habitat" and shouldn't be about just about rounding them up into sanctuaries, because that's not the answer, they should ideally eat naturally by hunting and freely roaming and finding their own food in their forests. It's not all just clean water, trees and air that we need to conserve, but also the very animals who who make it their home. Also, if bears were to ever go extinct in Croatia, then the Zagreb Bears hockey club would be redundant and pointless. We can't have that happen boys and girls, because like I said bears are people too. (short history lesson: Medvenica (meaning "Bear mountain" in Croatian) which also includes the medieval fortress Medvedgrad (meaning "City of Bears/Bear Town") located just outside of Zagreb got their name because of the many bears found in the area in the middle ages)

If Croatia didn't have bears anymore, then Zagreb couldn't have annual FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup commercials like this...

...Many people don't know that even Winnie the Pooh was...that's right, he was actually a bear...

...or what about the "Teddy Bear Hospital" event at Zrinjevac Park in Zagreb, capital of Croatia. We couldn't even have that then, the "Teddy Bear Hospital" has been organized annually in Zagreb and other Croatian cities since 2002 aiming at dispelling children's fear of doctors and hospitals. (Xinhua/Miso Lisanin)

...the bear statues located at the onsite ski chalet Hotel Tomislavov Dom at Medvenica mountain, if there were no bears anymore what the heck would they put there instead then? (ostriches..camels..hippopotamuses..jackalopes? Pfff that would be absurd)

...or even a Medveščak Zagreb (Zagreb Bears) hockey team and commercials... amusing video of a traditional folk song from the historical Croatian Lika region which also includes bears off course. Because of the rivers, lakes, springs, caves, mountains, forests and highest concentration of national and natural parks in Croatia, the Lika region makes for ideal galavanting grounds and homes for bears...

...the medieval Medvedgrad fortess located above the city of Zagreb and built in the 13th century, (and even used as a venue for the annual Fantastic Zagreb film festival seen above), it gets its name from the Croatian meaning "bear-town/city of bears", because during the Middle Ages the local forests and mountains were known for their large bears population. If there were no bears in Croatia anymore then it would have to be named after a bird, bat or some other animal...

...the Croatian ERSTE Handball League bear mascot seen here during the Rijeka Carnival, well he would sort of be pointless then (eg; "Get the hell out of here you stupid pointless jerk, there's no Croatian bears you jackass!")...

...Heck, we wouldn't even have the Zagreb based Pivovara Medvedgrad (Medvedgrad Brewery) and of course their Zlatni Medvjed (Golden Bear) line of pilsener beers either (see interesting related post croatians-drinking-world-lists)...

A traditional Lika cap ("Lička kapa", a cap worn by local Croatian irregular soldier Hajduks and Uskoks against Muslim Ottoman Turkish raids in the 16th century, a historic symbol of bravery and resistance to foreign occupation and eastern invaders) seen on a Croatian bear (Hrvatski Medvjed), The Lika region of Croatia (pronounced "Lee-ka") is also known for it's long history of bears. Interestingly, statistically deer and even cows kill more people in North America annually than bears, sharks, snakes, spiders and alligators combined.

Below the Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary news, I added some information regarding the state of wolves and the lynx in Croatia, who also have grown in population to healthier levels. In some other parts of Europe wolves and lynx have already disappeared, so that's good news too. I actually even discuss a little bit about the history of bears and wolves in a Croatian mythology post HERE, as they are animals that have a long history in Croatian mythology, legends and folk tales. Unfortunately, the prehistoric giant bear went extinct about 10,000 years ago, but it sure would've been cool to see one of those roaming around these days too. (Did you know that also around 10,000 years ago in Europe there were bear cults who worshiped the giant Cave Bear? Yep, a pretty prestigious, mysterious and interesting animal).

For a few more interesting and historical background tidbits, this Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary is located in the Lika region of Croatia (pronounced "Lee-ka"). Historical sources recorded how the Bijelo Hrvati (meaning White Croats) originally migrated from White Croatia to ancient Dalmatia, Pannonia and Illyricum including Lika in the 6th-7th century (White Croatia corresponding to areas north of the Danube, Bavaria, in and around the Carpathians, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland and to Belarus/Western Ukraine, with Great Croatia being another term used in the sources interestingly..."Great Croatia, also called 'White'..."). After the settlement of the Croats, Lika then became a part of the Kingdom of Croatia in 925, when Duke Tomislav of the Croats received the crown and became the first official King of Croatia. And directly attested in the 10th-century East Roman Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus' official foreign policy manual book "De Administrando Imperio", a few chapters dedicated to Croats and the organization of their early state, describes how their Ban (pronounced like "Bahn" and meaning a Viceroy/Governor of the Croatian King) "has under his rule Krbava, Lika and Gacka", it is actually one of the first areas recorded as being settled and ruled by the arriving Croats. Interestingly also, among the twelve noble Croatian tribes that had a right to choose the Croat King in the Middle Ages, the Gusić tribe was from Lika. (for some strange reason the emperor didn't mention the bears in his book, but trust me they were there also without a doubt).

Location of the Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary in the Lika region of Croatia.

The reverse of the Croatian 5 Kuna coin also features the Croatian Brown Bear/Mrki Medvjed (the other side features a kuna/marten who's pelts were a valued currency in the Middle Ages).

There's been talk in European conservation circles about future possibilities of using the carcasses of life long criminals, summer traveling shady vagrants and/or other pointless drivel as food for bears and wolves, in the winter especially, as that is when the food supply is at the lowest. This would be a great idea I think. It would lower the burden of incarceration and social services costs as well as help feed the bears and wolves through the toughest and coldest months. (Or maybe just annoying people, various types of whining overpaid so-called "professional" athletes, 87.3% of people who do 'selfies' on Twitter, a few politicians and celebrities now and then, pointless lying televangelists also course, and...a whole bunch of other types also. Bears aren't too picky though and would probably eat them all, bears are good like that. Remember boys and girls, bears and wolves are people too, and they are even a tourist attraction also while the others are not, that's very important to know and many times they're cuter and smarter too. It's that whole priorities thing). But the main thing regarding these topics is to make sure that bears, wolves, lynx, deers, beavers, martens and the other animals stick around in the Croatian forests for a long, long time, because without them they wouldn't be forests anymore, instead just a source of cardboard boxes and paper. After all, if it wasn't for bears, then the Zagreb Bears hockey club Zagreb Bears (Medveščak Zagreb in Croatian) might be called instead the..."Zagreb Turkeys" or "Zagreb Cats'"or something like that. (There are various other Croatian sports teams named after Wolves too btw, and some other animals also sometimes).

Croatian Brown Bear playing in the winter snow.

There's more information about the Kuterevo Bears Sanctuary on PDF and you can subscribe to their newsletter HERE. More information and images at the links below.


In Croatia around 1200 bears live in the wild. The bears living in Croatia are part from the Dinaric population, estimated to be home to 2800 bears. This is the second largest population in Central Europe.

The colour of the bear pelt can vary from light grey to black, even so the hair mostly has a brown colour, and therefore the brown bear has his name, in Croatian 'smeđi medvjed'. The bears living in Croatia have a weight on the average from 150 kg to over 300 kg.

The best habitats in Gorski Kotar, Velika Kapela, Mala Kapela and Velebit, have an average density of 10 or more bears per 100 km2. High population density drives frequent migration to neighboring peripheral areas of the bear range (Učka, Ćićarija, Pokuplje, Priobalje, etc.). 94.2% of the permanent bear presence areas are hunting areas, and 5.8% are located in national parks. In the national parks, bears are permanently protected.

Permanent bear presence habitats are areas in which bears satisfy all their food, water, space, non- disturbance, cover, breeding and denning needs and are present year-round. In those areas all prescribed protective measures are implemented in order to ensure the stability of the population. Local inhabitants accept bears as a part of their natural environment.

The bear is biologically classified as a rare species. The limited size of the available habit and the large space the bears require, prevent any significant further growth of the bear population.

You can find more information in the Brown Bear Management Plan of the Republic of Croatia.


The Bear Refuge was founded in 2002. In this moment eight bears are hosted in the Refugium Ursorum Kuterevo. All of these bears lost their mothers during their first year of life and thus had no chance of survival in the wild.

More images and information at a related blog:

Next to the volunteer station is the baby bear centre with one enclosure for one young bear, Marko Kralj, born in 2012, and another for two other young bears, Mlada Gora and Mladi Dol. Both of them are born in 2010, like all the bears during the winter dormancy in January or February. We have 5 older bears. Huu Bear and Vlad Mir, who are 6 years old, are sharing an enclosure. Blago Zoo is 7 years old and is from Zagreb Zoo. They are brother and sister and born in 2007. They share an enclosure with two big male bears that are 11 years old – Ljubo Lik and Zdravi Gor.



The Bear Refuge project is being run by Velebit Association Kuterevo, also know as VUK (which in Croatian means wolf), according to the acronym in the Croatian language (Velebitska Udruga Kuterevo). The main fundamentals of the project are volunteers. Basically, the Bear Refuge Project and the Volunteers’ Station are coordinated by volunteers, among whom some are from Kuterevo, some from Zagreb and some other from elsewhere abroad. Kuterevo, although a small rural community is used to international volunteers, since it has been hosting youth groups since 1978.

Some footage about Croatian bear conservation in Velebit National Park. Video originally from this B.B.C. article.

Scenes of what goes on at the Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary.


Kuterevo is a small village in the Velebit Mountains range with about 634 habitants. It is situated between the Abriatic seaside and Velebit Mountains which forms a part of the Dinaric Alps. It is 30 km from Senj a beautiful city at the seaside; 60 km from the Plitvice Lakes National Park and only 10 km from the National park Northern Velebit National Park. Kuterevo is extended in a 6 km valley. There is one market in the village, where you can find all necessary products.

Besides, much home‐made and organic food can be found from local families (milk, cheese, eggs, vegetables, etc.). Buying food from locals is a good way to support organic production and interact with the people from the village. It also gives an opportunity to learn about home‐made products and traditional ways of living.

People in the village are very hospitable and tolerant, what is necessary for coexistence of people and the bears.

Bear cubs in Kuterevo.

Croatian Brown Bears in the Velebit Mountain National Park region and seen below with cubs in the forests of Risnjak National Park in the Gorski Kotar area.

The Croatian Brown Bear is in the same species category as the Grizzly and Kodiak bears, distinguished from the common American Black Bear by their larger size, longer claws and their visible shoulder hump.


The volunteers' Station is a typical house of the region in which volunteers live, work and have fun. It is situated close to the centre of the village and next to the baby bear centre. There are usually several volunteers from different countries, who run everyday activities of the project. Lifestyle is as much as possible sustainable and nature friendly (composting, reusing waste, biodegradable products, local and home-made food, rain water etc)

Subscribe to our newsletter Bears and People – Kuterevo.

Archives of Kuterevo volunteers’ newsletters:


Bear and people – Kuterevo – November 2013 English Croatian

Bear and people – Kuterevo – July 2013 English / Croatian

Bear and people – Kuterevo – April 2013   English / Croatian



Croatian Lynx Population Increased Because Of Protected Status In Its Natural Habitat

The Lynx population (Hrvatski Ris) was also in danger of complete extinction about 100 years ago, however after conservation efforts over the years, the Lynx population in Croatia has also made a slow but steady comeback. Like the bears and wolves, the Lynx is a protected animal in Croatia and their greatest threat to growing numbers has always been mainly illegal hunting/poachers. The Risnjak National Park gets it's very name from the Ris/Lynx, however besides the lynx the park is also home to the brown bear, wolf, red deer, roe deer, chamois, wild boar, pine marten, beech marten, badger, weasel, squirrels and dormouse. More information at ris.

Background information about the comeback of the Croatian Lynx over the last century and the conservation efforts going on to protect and increase their populations.

Wolves in Croatia: Protected From Threats, Their Numbers Return To Safe Levels

Wolves in a Croatian wolf sanctuary.


Have you thought about endangered species threatened with extinction? It’s hard to be immune to all the information which we are exposed to every day regarding the extinction of certain species. Endangering nature and what it can offer not only poses a threat to animals and plants, but also to humankind.

The exceptional biodiversity of flora and fauna is one of the key features of Croatian nature. Many of its representatives are at the same time both endemic, meaning they inhabit only a specific area, and relic, meaning that the rare remains of the ancient living world, which is often mostly extinct. A fifth of mammals, one third of amphibians and more than two-thirds of known plants on Earth are on the brink of extinction, according to the Red List, which is published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

On the IUCN Red List are 91 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, plants, mollusks and other invertebrates from Croatia. According to the IUCN, wolves are included in this list. Over the past 2 years in Croatia, around 200 wolves, divided into 50 packs, have been recorded. The wolf is a protected species in Croatia. That means they cannot be disturbed, intentionally captured or kept in captivity, bred, injured, killed or traded. The destruction of their habitat is also prohibited. The penalty for slain wolf is 40 thousand Kuna, or €5,250. Wolves in Croatia face the daily threat of becoming extinct forever.

A wolfpack in a Croatian wolf sanctuary. Image:

Unfortunately, a number of activities, such as deforestation and harvesting, lead to a continuous reduction in the number of wolves. Wolves are killed for other reasons, which do not have much to do with man directly. In their natural habitat many of them are destroyed due to disease, lack of food or fights with other wolves. However, even if it may appear that humanity has no influence, our actions endanger wolves in several ways.

The impact that man has on the slow vanishing of the wolves can be classified into three categories. First, a direct impact: setting traps, legal and illegal hunting and the spread of infection. The second category includes the impact on habitat due to the construction of highways, deforestation and pollution. The third category is the impact that humans have on the prey of wolves, mostly through poaching. Therefore, legal and illegal hunting are the main causes of direct human impact on the wolf population, but this should not diminish the impact of poisoning or taking animals from the wild and keeping them in captivity, resulting in a loss of natural populations.

Due to the nature of the relationship between man and wolf, the wolf is one of the most endangered species in Europe. In Western Europe, wolves are almost is completely extinct. Croatia is one of the few areas in Europe where the wolf is still preserved. The presence of wolves and other large carnivores is a sign of natural resources in a given country. This is one more reason why we need to constantly consider the protection of this species, so that in the future wolves will be still part of the natural beauty of Croatia.

Author of text: Marija Tegovska

Wolves And Conservation In Croatia

The Croatian Grey Wolf (Hrvatski Sivi Vuk)

The study of large carnivores in Croatia was started by Professor Djuro Huber as a bear research project by the Biology Department of the Veterinary Faculty in 1981. Josip Kusak joined the project as a volunteer student in 1988 and was employed after graduation in 1992. The project was extended to wolves in 1993, first as a public campaign for protection of wolves in Croatia. Critically low number of wolves urged them to establish the “Croatian Wolf Group”, an NGO which carried a wolf conservation campaign. 1994 was the “Year of the wolf” in Croatia, resulting in the change of legal status of wolves from being pest species to fully protected in 1995.

This was not the end, but the beginning of a continuous process. “Croatian Wolf Group” ceased to exist (its primary goal – change of legal status of wolves in Croatia, was achieved) and conservation related activities (wolf damages compensation programme, promotion of wolf proof livestock husbandry etc.) were carried out by responsible government bodies, while wolf population monitoring and research was performed by the university’s “Large carnivores research project”. Since the very beginning the research was oriented towards wolf conservation, because of numerous questions needing to be answered for a successful wolf conservation programme. Researchers from the project are continuously involved in the process of conservation and management of wolves as well as the other two large carnivore species (brown bear and Eurasian lynx) living in Croatia.

What is the UKWCT funding used for?

The UKWCT has provided funding to the Croatian Wolf Research Project since 2006. Each year the funding is spent on field work. Radio telemetry is one of most powerful means to reveal the relevant biological features of wolves and lynx, and their prey; roe and red deer. The project also continues to gather data from all other available data sources: dead animals, genetics, fresh scats, prey species situation, and contacts with local inhabitants.

Wolves today are found predominantly in the dark green areas but are also regularly seen in the beige areas throughout the year.

According to the 2012 Report Status for Conservation and Distribution of European Large Carnivores, Croatia is one of the few European countries that have fortunately been able to maintain safe levels and "growing permanent populations" of Europe's 3 largest native carnivores "in their natural environment", all thanks to the conservation efforts, legislation and criminal prosecutions for illegal hunting/poaching. (The Wolverine has since the 19th century been limited to Northern boreal forests, subarctic and alpine tundra of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Western Russia and Siberia due to human infringement into their habitats). However, this Croatian conservation success story confirms that humans and wild predators in their natural environment can successfully live alongside each other. This type of "co-existence model" also works successfully on a continental scale as these species have adapted to life alongside humans elsewhere also. 

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