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Blog: Never run from a bear

If people do not understand about wildlife, then they will make decisions at the ecosystem level that can have horrible consequences, says American ranger and bear expert, Gregg Losinski.

The brown bear is a protected animal all year round (Source: Ján Krošlák)

Losinski is currently spending a month at the Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica through the Fulbright Scholarship Program of the U.S government. 

In Slovakia, the job positions in the environmental sector are very different from the ones in the USA .Gregg, can you explain about your job in the States, please?

Gregg Losinski: I am fortunate that I am allowed a lot of freedom in my job.   Because my title has “Educator” in it, I try to function always as a teacher, rather than a bureaucrat or law enforcement person, although these are parts of my job. When I start the day I try to figure out what is happening out in nature with my department that the public might find interesting or important.  I am then able to drive and then hike to take part in our management activities, but mainly taking pictures and videos to be used later in presentations, on television, or the internet.  Some days it is trapping beavers, measuring fish, or even fighting forest fires. Along the way to or from the work site I might stop at a school to talk to the students about wildlife, showing them skins and skulls to help them understand.  Always trying to keep humans and animals connected, not separate. Along the way as I drive I will stop if I see a hunter or angler and then check their licences to make sure they are legal.  If they have game or fish I will check that to make sure they are the right species. When I get back home or office I will then enter interesting images or information onto Facebook or send out a news release to the media. In the evening I might do a presentation to the public about something relating to my job, most often about bears.

What are the biggest joys and challenges of your job?

GL: The biggest joy of my job has been the freedom to do whatever I thought was important to helping humans and wildlife be able to coexist without conflict. My work in Europe has been wonderful, but totally something I came up with on my own, and fortunately I was able to have my employers allow me to take time to do such work. I always want to help people understand the big picture, but realize that the little things are just as important too. If people do not understand about wildlife, then they will make decisions at the ecosystem level that can have horrible consequences. Everything is connected and I get very frustrated with people who only want to blame one animal such as a wolf or bear for problems with people or livestock. I support hunting as a management tool and to provide food, but I am embarrassed by people who kill just for fun, even though it may be legal. The influence of politicians and corruption is something that always bothers me and I try to educate the public so that they can become more involved.  Our motto in our environmental program Project WILD, has been:”Teaching people how to think, not what to think!”

Why do you think the nature conservation and environmental education is so important?

GL: It is important because people are part of the natural system. Because of media and technology people often think they are separate from nature. That humans can control and fix everything. I believe environmental education is important because it helps to make people realize that everything has a cost and that some things once lost, may never be able to be replaced.  We need to use nature, but not abuse it.

There are many countries in the world to visit, why did you choose to visit Slovakia first time and when was it?

GL: My original reason for visiting Slovakia was because my Great Grandmother was from Štrba and I wanted to know about my roots. Her father was a poet who loved Slovakia very much and was forced to leave in 1902 because he helped blow up a statue of Franz Joseph that was atop the Gerlach peak. When I turned 50 in 2010 my mother took me to Poland because much of my family had come from there.  I enjoyed Poland, but when I learned that there were brown bears in the Tatras near Štrba, I knew I must visit. I was fortunate that I was able to make contact with Robin Rigg of the Slovak Wildlife Society who agreed to host a talk about Yellowstone Grizzly Bears.  At that presentation I met six people that have become my friends in Slovakia, all who work to help bears and people coexist.

What do you think is special in our country?

GL: Slovakia is truly the Little Big Country! I love the land and the people. I love how original it seems compared to how modern and sterile much of other parts of Europe have become.  To me Slovakia is an undiscovered gem. I also love the food and the friendly culture of the people especially!

Which places do you like here and why? Are there places and activities on your “bucket list” which are connected also to Slovakia?

GL: I love the Tatras and would of course like to explore them more.  I have seen some of Slovakia’s castles, but would like to visit them all!  I love caves, so I must visit them all!  I also love winter sports, so I would like to alpine and Nordic ski, as well as take part in a biathlon, so I need to come back in the winter. Because there is so much I have left to see, I hope to spend more time here after I retire in a few years.

What kind of projects did you realize here and what are you going to realize here during your autumn stay?

GL: When I visit I hope to explain to Slovaks how we do things in the USA and hopefully they will be able to figure out more about how they would like to manage things here in the future. I hope to speak to not only university students, but students of all ages. I want to talk to teachers, politicians and average people.  I want to help them realize what a special place Slovakia is and how hard they must work together to protect it as the country continues to grow.

If you should name three main differences between Slovakia and USA, what it would be? And what do you think we have in common?

GL: One of the biggest differences I see between the two countries is that the USA is a very diverse country with lots of people with different ideas and backgrounds.  Slovakia is still mostly of a common mind and history.  I think that it is important to not forget the past, but embrace the new things that are good as well.  While not all of America is wealthy, my perception is that even our poorest people have more services and property than many average Slovaks. More is not always better and I think many things we do in America are often wasteful, Slovaks cannot afford to be wasteful. Not that many Americans aren’t friendly, but Slovaks are much friendlier. Slovaks are more hospitable in my mind and the culture of toasting I find very inviting. One major difference is that Slovakia has a very excellent public transportation network. America is a big place, so it is expected that public transportation would be difficult on the large scale, but even many of our cities and towns are nowhere as easy to get around without a car as much of Slovakia.

And as for the nature protection in National Parks and approach to bears - what differences in approach can you see here?

GL: I think that local politics in Slovakia have more influence than in America. In America I sense better cooperation between the parks, the towns, the people, and the NGOs to reduce conflict. Hopefully more education here will help everyone to work together and realize that everyone must make changes to have people and bears living together.

What is your basic recommendation if I met a bear, for example, in High Tatras?

GL: First, enjoy the moment if the bear is far enough away! Never run away, slowly back away from the bear, try to avoid direct eye contact and talk in a normal voice, just so the bear knows you are there and is not surprised. If the bear charges you, hopefully you have bear spray. It is better than a gun at stopping bear attacks. If you do not have bear spray, lay down right before the bear makes contact. Face down, spread your legs and clasp your hands behind you neck. Often a bear will bite once or twice to let you know it is not happy, then leave the area. Bears know that they are stronger than you and could kill you, but as long as you do not look like a threat they will often leave you alone. It is important to not get up too soon, be sure the bear has left the area before you get up and seek medical attention.

If you had magic powers, what would you do? Regarding the nature conservation and protection in Slovakia, USA, the Earth – in other words, some “wishes” for our human or bears future?  

GL: I would make it so that humans are able to have what they need, but in a manner that had the least impact on bears and all of nature. The challenge is that animals will always do what they need to survive, but humans often do all they can, often more than they need or in such a way as to do permanent damage without even being aware of it.

Gregg Losinski is an American "ranger", constantly working in the nature protection for more than 32 years. He has got an extensive knowledge and experience as for the large carnivores, especially bears, national park service. He has been able to reduce the conflicts between the humans and bears in many areas .He cooperated with our NGO, Slovak Wildlife Society and during this autumn he is going to held many lectures for Matej Bel University students but also for the public. He is the Chairman of Information & Education Subcommittee at Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee, Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game, and Regional Conservation Educator. He aims to continue work on reducing human/bear conflicts in Slovakia through education, public outreach, and improved sanitation.

By Zuzana Hermanová

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