In a surprise move Tuesday, the Romanian government banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx, and wild cats – a move that will protect the largest population of carnivores in Europe. This is a massive shift for the country, which has seen hunting quotas grow year by year since its acceptance into the European Union in 2007. This year had the largest hunting quotas yet, with licenses for hunters to shoot shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.

romania, european union, endangered species, trophy hunting, predators, large carnivores, hunting, hunting quotas, poaching, wolves, brown bears, lynx

This new rule closes a loophole that hunters from around the globe were using to collect trophies from protected species. Under European law, all large carnivores are supposed to be protected from hunters – unless the animals have been proven to pose a danger to humans. Hunting associations in Romania would submit two numbers to the government each year: one, an estimate of the total population of each carnivore species, and two, the number of predators deemed to be a threat. The second number is the one that would be used by the government to determine hunting quotas.

Related: Romania races to save some of the last untouched forests in Europe

It should come as no surprise that the hunting industry, which rakes in millions of Euros every year, may not have been accurately reporting either number. Animals rights activists questioned how the number of “threatening” animals could be determined in advance, without any actual damage to people or property. The hunting associations likely also inflated the official count of large predators in the region by counting the same animals multiple times. This means the official statistics could be off by hundreds or even thousands.

Though conservationists will cheer the news, not everyone is likely to welcome it. In Romania’s remote countryside, large carnivores are a nuisance to livestock farmers and a threat to villagers. Despite research showing that hunting these predators does nothing to reduce the conflict between humans and large carnivores (and sometimes simply causes more predators to move to the area), many in rural areas believe hunting is the only solution. If the government wants to prevent poaching, it will have to convince residents in these regions that there are better alternatives to keep the carnivore population under control.

Related: 7 Animals Recently Driven to Extinction by Humans

One method the government plans to use is to simply take dangerous carnivores into its own hands. A special unit will be set up within the country’s paramilitary police force specifically to respond to reports of damages by predators. Instead of authorizing the hunting of potentially dozens of unrelated animals, problem carnivores will be dealt with directly.

Via The Guardian

Images via Henning Leweke and Photogore