Bear attacks: the frightening side of rewilding

She was caught, “finally”, after they spotted paw prints in fresh snow, said Giampaolo Visetti in La Repubblica (Rome). Teams of forest rangers in the Alpine region of Italy had been hunting down a brown bear named JJ4 ever since she attacked and killed 26-year-old Andrea Papi as he jogged through the forest early last month. But her capture, on 18 April, marked the start of another saga, one that pits the provincial government against animal rights groups. The former issued a catch-and-kill order, but the latter have launched a court challenge against it. A final decision is expected on 11 May.

The cruel irony of all this, said Tristan Kennedy in Wired, is that “were it not for a 25-year-old rewilding programme”, JJ4 would not have been in the Trentino region at all. Brown bears were all but extinct there by the mid-1990s, until the reintroduction of ten of them from Slovenia, between 1996 and 2004, helped reverse the decline. The move was hugely popular at first, not least because their arrival brought a range of ecological benefits: they kept down deer numbers and spread seed with their droppings. Yet as bear numbers in Trentino swelled to more than 100, locals’ patience was severely tested; and now, after the “first fatal bear attack in Western Europe in modern times”, local officials are threatening to deport or cull dozens more of the animals.

JJ4: the bear that killed Andrea Papi

Which is what they should be doing, said Rodolfo Casadei in Tempi (Milan). Accustomed to sparsely populated habitats, Slovenian bears – less docile than the browns of the Dolomites that preceded them – are ill-suited to areas frequented by hikers and runners. Nor is JJ4 the first bear to make headlines in Trentino, said Marco Marangoni in Agenzia Italia (Rome). In 2012, one was sedated after killing several farm animals; in 2014 and 2017, two more were put down after attacking people; and in 2019-20, a bear known as M49 was the “most wanted” wild animal in Europe, having slaughtered dozens of cows and sheep. In point of fact, back in June 2020 JJ4 herself had committed another attack, this time against a father and son who’d been hiking along a trail near the spot Papi was killed. Then too the provincial government had issued a kill order subsequently overturned by a court. So is it any wonder locals are alarmed? Yet the answer is not to “seal ourselves off” from nature, said Enrico Camanni in La Stampa (Turin). Humans and bears co-exist in North America, where signs advise people of the need to be “bear aware”. Is it too much to hope that a similar state of harmony can one day be reached in Europe?