A bear, which killed a trail runner ten days ago on Mt Peller in the Italian Dolomites, has been captured. Mt Peller rises to an altitude of 7,612ft (2,320m) and is situated about two hours north of Lake Garda.
The bear had been identified by means of DNA traces left behind in the fatal injuries the 26-year-old runner had sustained. The man, identified as Andrea Papi, had gone for a run on April 5, 2023, but did not return home and his girlfriend, Alessia Gregori, alerted the authorities. Papi’s body was found by search dogs the next day. He is the first Italian to be killed by a bear in years.
The bear was identified as a 17-year-old female bear, known as JJ4. She was also responsible for two further attacks on humans in March this year and in 2020. Authorities have suggested euthanizing the bear but the bears are protected in Italy and the decision needs to be made by a court. Papi’s parents are pleading to spare the life of the wild animal. Bears were re-released in that area of Italy two decades ago and it is estimated that there are now about 80 bears in the Dolomites. JJ4 was found with her three cubs when she was captured in a special humane bear trap. Forest rangers had been tracking her and the cubs for days. The cubs are two years old and were released as they are weaned and are not considered to pose any danger to humans.
The event has caused a heated debate about the pear population in the Dolomites and divided locals. Some, like the World Wildlife Foundation ‘WWF’, say it is unfair to punish a wild animal for the death. Others have come out publicly in favor of the culling, such as famous mountain climber Reinhold Messner. Messner said in an interview with newspaper Alto Adige, “Animal rights activists have always defended the bear trade with the sword, but now they must finally realize that like the wolves, bears are predatory animals and as such represent a danger to those who live in the mountains, to tourists, and animal herds.” The 79-year-old mountain climber is in favor of not just killing JJ4 but significantly culling the number of bears in the Dolomites.
Andrea’s girlfriend is in favor of the bear being put down, but stresses that this is not the solution to the current problem the bear population is causing in the Dolomites. She squarely lays the issue with the management of the initiative Life Ursus, which was responsible for the project of releasing the bears in the region.
“Andrea was scared, it’s normal, because on that side of the mountain there are many bears roaming freely. Everyone knows that there is a possibility of encountering one. However, I will still go walking in the mountains, but will be aware that the danger is always present. Maybe, instead of going there alone, I’ll go accompanied,”
Alessia Gregori said in an interview with the Italian press.
Governor Maurizio Fugatti is adamant that the Life Ursus project has become unsustainable due to the rapid increase in bear numbers. The local council is currently planning to kill four bears in total which have caused problems in the past and have been reported to the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (‘ISPRA’). Fugatti said he doesn’t care about the well-being of bears, but rather about the safety of his community.
The WWF is calling for a calm and measured response and accusing Fugatti of using the incident for political gain. They reject the notion, that a change in legislation is required and claim that Fugatti is over reacting. According to a press release by the Italian branch of the WWF, Fugatti has been demanding to remove up to 70 bears in recent days.
“[…] The wildlife management, and that of the bears in particular, requires competence and preparation and it would be good to rely on technicians and experts avoiding unnecessary improvisations. There are many things to do about prevention and they are known: the more you take action, the less risks citizens and tourists will run. The extremist positions of those who want at all costs to minimise the risks arising from the presence of a bear that attacked and killed a man and of those who do not miss an opportunity to propose the elimination of dozens and dozens of bears, represent an obstacle to the management of a complex problem that requires complex solutions and taken on scientific basis. The goal must be to build a just coexistence between the local communities and the bears.”
The decision on how to proceed after this fatality will be an important precedence on how the reintroduction of predatory animals is handled globally. In the U.S., the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado and other areas has caused heated debates and this serves as an example of the inherent dangers of predatory animals. It is vital to find a balance between the protection of people and respect for the lives of animals, so that a sustainable and harmonious coexistence between the communities and wildlife can be found.