Main game mammal trends after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe
When political regimes fall, rapid socio-economic change can follow and nature conservation may have a lower priority during such times. For large mammals, this can represent a substantial threat, as people may turn to natural resources during times of economic hardships. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, and post-socialist countries experienced a period of increasing poverty, weakened institutions, and diminishing support for nature conservation. Our goal here was to examine trends of major game species in the Eastern European countries before and after the collapse of socialism. In particular, we compared population trends before 1989-1990 with those during the 1990s, immediately after the collapse, and the 2000s, when many countries recovered from the initial shock. We analyzed population trends for moose, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, brown bear, Eurasian lynx, and grey wolf.
We found that moose, wild boar, and red deer had a lower population growth rate at the beginning of 1990s than before and after, and this decline sometimes exceeded 50% of former population number. Grey wolf, on the other hand, showed higher population growth in the 1990s comparing to the previous decade. Other species did not show decreasing population growth during the 1990s. We found stronger declines when analyzing only countries of the former Soviet Union (Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) compared to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary that exhibited no significant changes in growth rates. Furthermore, moose, wild boar, and roe deer populations rebounded and increased in abundance after 2000 in the majority of countries. Possible mechanisms behind the population trends vary and depend on the country, including but not being limited to new hunting and land ownership legislations, poaching, opening new markets for venison, land-use change and changes in agricultural sector. At the same time, the species that we analyzed appeared to be fairly resilient to changes and able to recover quickly.