Brown bear that is killing livestock and startling hikers in Italy's Dolomites is wanted, dead or alive

Nick Squires
Bears were reintroduced to Italy from Slovenia in the 1990s - Getty Images Europe

A bear that is raiding beehives, attacking livestock and startling hikers in the Dolomite mountains of Italy is now wanted dead or alive.

The brown bear is known to scientists as M49 but was nicknamed Papillon, after the Henri Charrière novel about escaping from Devil’s Island in French Guiana, when it managed to climb over a 16ft-high fence and flee an enclosure last month.

It had been captured just a few hours before after being identified as a problem bear which posed a threat to farm animals.  

Since escaping the enclosure in a wildlife sanctuary in the province of Trentino on July 15, it has been slowly moving northwards, disemboweling a cow and encountering hikers.

The province of South Tyrol has now issued an order which calls for the capture or, if necessary, the killing of the 140kg, three-year-old bear.

It is normally illegal to kill or capture Italy’s bears, which were introduced from Slovenia in the 1990s.

The order was signed on Wednesday by Arno Kompatscher, the president of the autonomous, German-speaking province, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the end of the First World War when it passed to Italy.

“We want to capture the bear in order to protect other bears, and also wolves, because if it continues to be a nuisance, then bears and wolves will never be accepted by the population,” said Arnold Schuler, the deputy president of the province.

The bear is roaming the Dolomites in northern Italy, between the provinces of Trentino and South Tyrol

The authorities say the bear poses a risk to humans. In the last few days, it was seen snuffling around a caravan used by shepherds in a remote mountain spot, looking for discarded food.

Two national park rangers fired shots into the air to scare it away.

The bear was encountered this week by a hiker on a mountain trail near the Bletterbach Canyon in South Tyrol. “My legs were shaking,” the 64-year-old man told a local newspaper. “People joke about meeting a bear in the wild, but when you really do encounter one, you’re no longer laughing.”

Carlo Groff, an expert on large carnivores from Italy’s Forestry Corps, says rangers are trying to keep track of the bear’s movements and hope to tranquilise and capture it. “The safety of humans comes before the bear,” he told La Stampa newspaper.

Conservation organisations and animal rights groups have threatened to take legal action against the authorities if the bear comes to any harm.

“The bear is simply living its normal life. It has never been dangerous to humans. It has caused a few thousand euros’ worth of damage, and it is right that compensation should be paid, but we need to learn to value bears as an asset, not a threat,” said Isabella Pratesi of WWF Italy.

While the autonomous provincial government has called for the bear’s capture or, if necessary, killing, Sergio Costa, the environment minister, has called for the bear to be spared.