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Italian officials under scrutiny after killing brown bear deemed dangerous to humans

Forestry corps personnel in northern Italy on Tuesday killed a brown bear deemed dangerous to humans by local authorities, sparking protests from animal rights activists and the scrutiny of Italy’s environment minister.

M90, the brown bear, was killed by members of the forestry corps in the Sole Valley in the eastern Alps on the orders of Trento provincial president, Maurizio Fugatti, according to an official statement. The bear exhibited “excessive confidence and frequentation of urban areas,’’ having followed people on multiple occasions, most recently following a pair of hikers for more than half a kilometer (a third of a mile) on a forested road, the province said.

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The Ispra environmental institute confirmed the necessity of “removing the bear M90 as soon as possible,” the province said. The bear was identified by its radio collar and ear markings.

Environmental groups protested the speed of the order and execution, which did not allow them time to seek a stay. They have announced a protest Saturday in the provincial capital, Trento.

The timing of the decree and the execution “make us think that while the order was being signed, the rifles were already smoking,’’ said Massimo Vitturi of the LAV animal rights group.

A brown bear at the “Bioparco di Roma” (Rome Zoo) in July 2023, during a heat wave. (Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

Italy’s environmental minister, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, questioned whether the culling was the best option, saying in a statement that “it can’t be the only alternative.” He called for efforts “to guarantee a peaceful cohabitation in the territory.”

Authorities in the province have been battling with animal rights activists over what to do with the growing Alpine brown bear population that was once nearly extinct but has rebounded thanks to a European Union-funded project.

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Last spring, they captured a 17-year-old female, identified as JJ4, in the Brenta national park who had killed a runner about two weeks earlier, and had injured a father and son out walking in the region in 2020. Animal rights activists have been fighting to have her transferred to Romania, while an Italian administrative court has sought clarification on the province’s culling order from the European Court of Justice.

In the meantime, the carcasses of two other bears, M62 and MJ5, have been found, one near the Molveno Lake in April and one in Bresimo in the Val di Non in October.

And two of JJ4s siblings were killed when they wandered into neighboring Switzerland in 2008 and nearby Germany in 2005.

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Jj4 was born to two bears brought to Italy from Slovenia two decades ago as part of an EU-funded program to repopulate the brown bear population that had been dwindling to the point of near extinction. Her parents, Joze and Jurka, were introduced in 2000 and 2001 respectively and account for the “Jj” initials of her name and those of her siblings.

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