CUSMA, Romania (AFP) — When Maria Lacatus' son opened the barn door, it was already too late. "The bear had one of the pigs in its claws," the sobbing 86-year-old says.
After losing a horse too a few days later, Lacatus now agrees with many of her neighbors in the northern Romanian village of Cusma that hunting the protected species is the only answer.
The bear had fled through an opening it had made in some wooden planks, Lacatus says, unable to shake the vision of the animal she "almost bumped into".
She lives with her son, daughter-in-law — both take whatever daily work they can find — and their seven children in a house protected by a wooden fence opening onto a muddy yard.
The pigs are a vital source of income.
Romania has Europe's highest number of brown bears which have always been a common sight in Cusma, population about 600 and lying eight hours by road from the capital Bucharest.
But residents say that the bears didn't use to venture into farms to take animals -- around 15 cows and pigs have been killed by bears in the last two years, says deputy mayor Florin Griga.
In other parts of the country, humans have been attacked.
In October alone, a bear killed a 47-year-old who was picking mushrooms and a 61-year-old died due to an attack while fishing.
Thirty-two people were attacked, two of them fatally, in 2017 and 2018, according to government data.
Authorities have suggested that communities erect electric fences and use specialized dogs to keep bears away.
But with very few exceptions, such as the central town of Baile Tusnad, the measures have not been carried out.
In response to calls from some in rural areas, senators voted in September to allow brown bears to be hunted over the next five years, citing a problem of overpopulation.
The controversial bill, which still needs approval by deputies, has mobilised several associations into trying to get it blocked.
Some 100,000 people have signed an online petition by the World Wildlife Fund asking MPs to reject the bill.
EU member Romania also risks sanctions as the brown bear is among 1,200 species protected by the bloc's habitats directive.
'Maintain a balance'
"Man has always intervened to maintain a balance. Stopping this intervention results in the bear population getting out of hand," says senator Tanczos Barna, a supporter of the draft law.