Large carnivores including gray wolves, brown bears, wolverines and the Eurasian lynx are making something of a comeback in Europe, recovering from decades of hunting and habitat destruction, researchers say.

And rather than existing in protected natural areas or remote regions through the continent, the creatures are mostly being seen in nonprotected areas where the animals seem happy to coexist alongside humans, they say.

With the exception of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, Europe "is succeeding in maintaining, and to some extent restoring, large carnivore populations on a continental scale" thanks in large part to strong legal protections, researchers report in the journal Science.

Permanent breeding populations of at least one large carnivore exist in most European countries, the researchers found; only Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are without such populations.

Large areas of Scandinavia and the Balkans are home to as many as 17,000 brown bears, they found, with those same areas hosting around 12,000 wolves.

Wolf populations have also established themselves in eastern Europe, and in parts of France, Germany, Italy and on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal.

The wildlife study involved a team of 50 leading carnivore biologists from across Europe.

Guillaume Chapron of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the study's lead author, says in addition to legal protections, credit for the carnivore's recovery should also go to a deep shift in psychology within the public, from hostility about carnivores to tolerance of them, which he links to the environmental movement of the 1970s.

"The European model shows that people and predators can coexist in the same landscapes," he says. "I do not mean that it is a peaceful, loving coexistence; there are always problems. But if there is a political will, it is possible to share the landscape with larger predators."

The coexistence model may pave the way forward for other regions of the world, he says, especially in the United States, which has traditionally followed a policy of strictly separating people from wildlife.

California, he points out, is presently facing the likelihood of breeding wolf packs returning to the state, and there is a petition before officials seeking to reintroduce grizzly bears.

"Well, look at the European example," Chapron suggests. "You can have a lot of wolves and bears in California; you just have to move to a coexistence mindset."

The study, with its confirmation of the workability of coexistence, received high praise from the wildlife advocacy group Rewilding Europe.

"People have this general picture of Europe that we lost all our nature and lost our wildlife," says Frans Schepers, the group's managing director. "What the rest of the world and a lot of Europeans still can learn from this is that conservation works. If we have the resources, if we have proper strategy, if we put in our effort, it actually works."

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