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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fatal attack on jogger rekindles fights over saving Italy’s Alpine bears

After a brown bear killed an outdoor enthusiast this month in the Alps, a debate has intensified over how Italy should handle a growing bear population saved from extinction two decades ago.

(CN) — A court battle has broken out in the Italian Alps over whether to put down a female brown bear that killed a 26-year-old outdoor enthusiast near his home in the mountains.

Andrea Papi became the first human in Italy to die from a bear attack in modern times while he was likely walking or running near his home in Caldes, a small town in the mountainous Trento province in the Alps.

His death on April 5 is reviving a long-running debate over a two-decade-old program that saved Italy's Alpine bear population from extinction but then seeded fear in local populations as the number of bears grew from only four at the end of the 1990s to more than 100. The increase in bears has led to a few people being mauled over the past decade while bear attacks on livestock have become common, farmers say.

On Friday, an administrative court in Trento sparked a legal showdown after it blocked an order issued by the president of Trentino, Maurizio Fugatti, to cull the 17-year-old bear that killed Papi. Fugatti also was seeking to put down two other bears deemed a danger to humans.

By Monday, the court fight was heating up as animal rights groups, prosecutors and government lawyers filed petitions and evidence with the local court. Meanwhile, Papi's parents say they will sue the authorities over their son's death.

ENPA, Italy's oldest animal protection group, and other animal rights organizations said they filed appeals to stop Trentino from killing problem bears and they blamed local authorities for failing to implement measures to prevent bear attacks.

The groups said the province needs to do better real-time tracking of bears, close off areas to hikers, distribute more bear-proof trash bins, install more electric fences and do more to teach residents and visitors about the dangers posed by bears.

Trentino needs to “change gears with respect to the unsuccessful experience of the past which contributed to the Caldes tragedy,” ENPA said in a statement, and “finally decide to apply the preventive measures required by law.”

Fugatti said the province was stunned by the court's decision to stop forest rangers from putting down the bear, which was identified as JJ4 under the bear reintroduction program.

The same bear was targeted for culling after it attacked two hunters in 2020, but that order was blocked too. After that attack, JJ4 was fitted with a tracking device around her neck, but the battery ran out last August, according to news reports. Forest rangers tracked down the bear and captured it late Monday.

Fugatti, a member of the right-wing League party and a longtime critic of the bear preservation program, vowed to fight the court ruling. He defended his order to kill the bears by noting it was approved by ISPRA, a state-funded national environmental research institute.

“I have a duty to ensure the security and safety of people,” Fugatti told Rete 4, a television channel, on Sunday.

He complained that Italians living in cities cannot understand the threat posed by bears and that they are all too ready to put the protection of wild animals ahead of the lives of people.

“Faced with the death of a young man, here we are worrying about JJ4,” he said.

At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, nine brown bears were brought to Trentino from neighboring Slovenia in an effort to save Italy's Alpine bear population. By then, there were only three or four brown bears left in Italy.

The program, known as Life Ursus, received funding from the European Union and the expectation was that Italy's bear population would grow to about 50 and that they eventually would spread to other parts of the Italian Alps.

But Fugatti said Trentino is overrun with twice that number of bears and he said most of the bears have stayed where they were first reintroduced. He wants Trentino's bear population to be reduced to 50 and the rest to be taken elsewhere in Europe.

He denied allegations that Trentino has not done enough to protect people from bears.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Environment, Government, International, Law

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