Bear kills jogger in Italy
Picture for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Rome: Authorities in northern Italy captured a bear that fatally mauled a runner and became the focus of a battle over what to do with Italy’s growing Alpine brown bear population that was once nearly extinct but has rebounded thanks to a European Union-funded project.

Jj4, a 17-year-old female, was captured overnight in the Brenta national park in a tube trap baited by fresh fruit, said officials in the autonomous province of Trento. She was sedated and taken to a holding centre pending a final decision on her fate. Her three cubs, who are 2 years old and self-sufficient, were with her at the time but were freed unharmed.

Andrea Papi, 26, was killed by Jj4 while out on a mountain training run April 5. After identifying Jj4 as his killer through her DNA, Trento provincial authorities ordered her euthanized, but animal rights groups appealed to an administrative court, which suspended the kill order.

Jj4 is the same Alpine brown bear that injured a father and son out walking in the region in 2020. Then too, Trento provincial authorities ordered her killed but a court blocked the move. She is the sister of two other brown bears that have been ordered killed in recent years because of their aggressive behaviour, including “Bruno,” or Jj1, who was killed after he crossed into Germany in 2005, and Jj3, killed by Swiss authorities in the canton of Grigioni in 2008, Italian news reports said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Trento’s provincial president, Maurizio Fugatti, expressed anger that Papi’s death could have been avoided if Jj4 had been euthanised after her first dangerous encounter with humans in 2020.

He denounced as “ideological” the arguments by animal rights groups that have opposed selective euthanasia for bears known to be aggressive, like Jj4. He told a press conference Tuesday that the province would have preferred to have euthanised her on the spot and still hopes to do so, pending a final court ruling.

Jj4 was born to two bears brought to Italy from Slovenia two decades ago as part of an EU-funded programme 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.

The Life Ursus project began in 1999 with the introduction of three males and six female bears into the Trento forests, with the intention of rebuilding the population to 40-60 bears over a few decades. But the project has worked too well, and the population has rebounded to more than 100 identified bears, which are increasingly encountering the human population, according to Italian media.

Fugatti is seeking the transfer of some 60 “excess” bears from the Trento region and said he planned to convene a working group to discuss the next steps.

A coalition of animal rights groups, including the International Organization of Animal Protection, or OIPA, demanded Trento authorities “rigorously” respect the court suspension of the kill order and vowed to defend Jj4 and her cubs “via all available legal means.”

Papi’s family had said they didn’t want the bear culled.