After a bear killed a jogger in northern Italy last month, the authorities moved swiftly to capture the animal and put it down.
But animal activists say the bear on “death row” at the Casteller animal care centre, near the city of Trento, Italy, is innocent.
Andrea Papi was killed by a bear on April 5. The 26-year-old’s mutilated body was found on a path near the town of Caldes on the slopes of Monte Peller in the Brenta Dolomites.
He had suffered deep wounds to the neck, arms and chest, an autopsy found, His shredded clothes were found near his body, with a bloodied tree branch which investigators believe he had used to try to defend himself.
The animal involved in the attack was quickly identified as a 17-year-old female bear known as JJ4, authorities issued an order for it to be put down.
The animal had shown “signs of aggression” in the past, officials said.
“We would have liked to kill the bear on the spot,” provincial governor Maurizio Fugatti told a press conference.
JJ4 had been with her three cubs when she was captured in a tube-shaped bear trap filled with fruit, after forest rangers had tracked her location using sniffer dogs.
However, activists say that DNA found on Andrea’s body showed that he had been attacked by a male bear, and the authorities have got the wrong animal.
JJ4’s cubs were all about two years old and no longer completely dependent their mother’s milk. They left the area after their mother was captured, officials say.
Animal welfare charity Leal has brought evidence before a regional administrative court, claiming that bite marks on Andrea’s body do not mach JJ4’s teeth, and that a bear’s bite is “as distinctive as a fingerprint”. “JJ4 is innocent” the charity said in a statement.
Brown bears were reintroduced to the region two decades ago, and although their population is seen as thriving they are a protected species in Italy.
JJ4 is descended from a stock of bears brought into northern Italy from Slovenia as part of the the “Life Ursus” European conservation project.
Local mayors in the Brenta Dolomites region say action needs to be taken to bring down the number of bears which has surged in recent years to at least 100. Several joggers have been attacked by bears over the past few years, and farmers have complained of attacks on livestock.
The WWF has said that seven people had been attacked by bears in Italy over the last 20 years but this was the first fatal attack.
This article by Michael Moran was first published by The Daily Star on 10 May 2023. Lead Image: JJ4’s three cubs have now wandered away from the area where she was captured (Image: ANSA/AFP via Getty Images).
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