BAILE TUSNAD, Romania — One evening after work in Baile Tusnad, a run-down spa city in jap Transylvania, a younger couple sat in a dark-blue sedan, headlights on, gazes mounted on dumpsters on a cobblestone again avenue.
They had been ready for bears.
There is proscribed leisure on this mountainous area of central Romania after the bars and eating places shut by 11 p.m. So the liveliest spots on the town are close to the dumpsters, the place big brown bears forage for meals.
“This is the local attraction,” stated Hunor Stekbauer, 26, a slender man with glasses and shirt sleeves rolled as much as reveal a classic calculator watch. He was sitting in the automotive one night, one hand holding a cigarette out the window, eyes mounted on the trash bins.
His girlfriend and co-worker at an vitality provider, Henrietta Gergely, 20, was in the passenger seat. She stated many native residents and others from cities close by hung round at evening hoping to identify a brown bear.
But if one had been to point out up, she admitted, “I’m not getting out of the car.”
Others feed, and chase the bears. Sometimes the people get harm, however they nonetheless collect to identify the animals.
Baile Tusnad, as soon as identified for its therapeutic waters, has earned a measure of fame for bear recognizing in Europe due to a confluence of looking practices and a former dictator’s legacy that allowed the bear inhabitants to flourish.
The city, with a human inhabitants about 1,600, was affluent in the 19th century, when the space was on the jap fringe of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But it has lengthy since misplaced its imperial luster.
With its patchwork of carved picket villas, crumbling Communist-era concrete buildings and latest glass-and-steel additions, it stands in stark distinction to the fantastic thing about the valley, the place dense forests meet the Olt River, offering sanctuary for brown bears.
Nicolae Ceausescu, the nation’s former dictator and an avid bear hunter, made positive there have been loads of bears round to supply him award-winning trophies that are actually mounted in an everlasting snarl on museum partitions. He left a bear inhabitants that has grown to greater than 6,000.
But the animals’ habitat has shrunk and their meals sources have diminished as improvement encroached. Deforestation and large-scale foraging for mushrooms and forest fruit additionally restricted their house and meals. As the bears started rising from the forests into cities and villages, they destroyed gardens, broken livestock and threatened folks.
Soon, the case for controlling them gained momentum.
Romania had banned trophy looking of bears two years in the past as part of the European Union’s push to maintain the diversity of wildlife in its natural environment. The ban sharply reduced the income of hunting societies that had marketed bear trophies for tens of thousands of dollars to wealthy foreigners.
The hunting societies share the responsibility of caring for wild animals, including the bears they cannot hunt, and since the ban, they have been accused of underfeeding the animals.
The authorities in Bucharest issued dozens of authorizations to kill bears that posed a threat to humans or livestock while the hunting ban was in place. Then, in a victory for hunters, a new plan adopted in July called for reducing the bear population by selective hunting.
Jeno Kovacs, 47, a hunter in Baile Tusnad, said that without selective hunting, bears that come into town would die in car accidents, get hit by trains or be poisoned by people.
Though selective hunting hasn’t begun yet, the plan has drawn fierce opposition from organizations like the World Wide Fund for Nature, which says that culling is not an efficient method of controlling the bear population and that the number of bears in the region has been inflated by those in favor of hunting them.
“The majority has decided, and that means the hunters,” said Cristian-Remus Papp of W.W.F. Romania.
In addition, environmentalists say, the news media has cast the bears as villains. When a bear hurt an 8-year-old boy in May near Calugareni, a news website published images of his wounds. When the government granted permission to kill the bear, a photo of its carcass flanked by two hunters was published online.
Mr. Papp acknowledged that the number of reported attacks had grown but said that, in most cases, people were provoking the bears. He said the animals that approached people were usually young, “a little dumb and fearless.”
When bears and humans meet, it can turn violent. Last summer, a woman from Hungary was wounded when she tried to take a selfie with a bear at Lake Sfanta Ana, near Baile Tusnad.
Jozsef Keresztes, 47, was disfigured three decades ago when a bear surprised him in fields near Bixad, a village south of Baile Tusnad.
“I had never seen a bear before or since then,” Mr. Keresztes said at his childhood home. “We’re used to them, but we’re fearful of them.”
Janos Szin, a stocky self-described “bear shepherd,” sees opportunity in the animals. He guides bear-watching tours in the pine-studded slopes that surround Baile Tusnad. It comes down to a choice, he says: “Do you want to see the bear as a beggar rummaging in the dumpsters, or as the king of the Carpathians in his own castle?”
In June, Mr. Szin drove a sport-utility vehicle up a remote logging road to a viewing point, stopping near a clearing where he had set up a wooden hut with giant two-way mirrors looking out on a carpet of wildflowers. Four tourists entered and sat in front of the glass.
Outside, Mr. Szin put out the bears’ daily allotment of food in accordance with hunting rules: kernels of corn. Minutes later, bears began to appear. Mr. Szin had given them names like Panda, Bea and Zephyr. They walked, jumped and rolled round. The tourists sat in awe.
Just before night fell, with six bears still in the clearing, Mr. Szin and his group sneaked out the back of the hut and walked through the forest to his S.U.V.
Away from the tourist trail, the bears are a source of frustration. A couple of hours’ drive west of Baile Tusnad, shepherds herd large flocks of sheep in verdant hills near the village of Soimusu Mic. Here, the loss of livestock to bears does considerable damage to the families who own them. And a cry for help during an attack often draws nothing but echoes.
On one hill, Sandor Tamasi, 27, stood near his flock as he recalled a summer night when he was herding sheep. Suddenly, he said, the animals stopped, “petrified.” Moments later, he found himself pulling his assistant — who had gotten too close to some bushes — from the jaws of a bear.
“Many have told us to just bring home the sheep,” Mr. Tamasi said. “Should we get ourselves killed?”
Back in Baile Tusnad, it was near midnight. Mr. Stekbauer and Ms. Gergely had moved on from the dumpster, still hoping to spot a bear. Mr. Kovacs was at the hunter’s inn he runs near the town center when — lo — he and a visitor saw a large bear casually walking down a cobbled street.
Mr. Kovacs and others greeted it with excitement. “I’d never want to shoot them,” he said, as he visibly softened at the sight of the animal. “I love them.”
Farther down the road, the young couple, guided by the sound of howling dogs, spotted the bear, too. It was the highlight of their night. Bear sighted, they gave a friendly wave and drove off.