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Distribution and genetic status of brown bears in FYR Macedonia: Implications for conservation
Conservation and management of large carnivores is often hampered by the lack of information of basic biological parameters. This is particularly true for brown bears (Ursus arctos) in the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia. The bear population in this country is important, as it links bear populations of the central part of the Dinaric–Pindos population and the endangered population to the south in Greece. The aim of this study was to assess bear presence in FYR Macedonia and to provide the first evaluation of the genetic status of the species in this country. Bear presence was assessed through a questionnaire and sign surveys, while the genetic status of the species was evaluated through noninvasive genetic sampling from power poles and microsatellite analysis. The results of the study indicate the continuous and permanent presence of brown bears in FYR Macedonia from the border to Kosovo in the northwest, along the border to Albania and Greece in the south; bear presence around Mount Kožuf in the south of the country was seasonal. High levels of genetic diversity were recorded, and it appears that this bear population is currently not threatened by low genetic variability. Cross-border movements of bears between FYR Macedonia and Greece were documented, indicating the presence of an interconnected population and outlining the necessity for a coordinated international approach in the monitoring and conservation of the species in southeastern Europe.