Ignorance in Italy Threatens the Life of Daniza the Mother Bear

A few days ago, Daniele Maturi, 38, went mushroom picking near a small village of Madonna di Campiglio in the Dolomites, Trentino. In the woods he found a big surprise waiting for him: a female brown bear with two cubs. He hid behind a tree to watch the “teddy bears’ picnic”. The mamma-bear spotted him and launched an attack to protect her little ones.

*** UPDATE 11, September, 2014: Sadly, Daniza the bear died during an attempt to capture here. Italy’s press is reporting that she did not survive the attempt to tranquilize her.

The death of Daniza has caused quite a stir in Italy. Everyone is asking for details of the circumstances of Daniza’s demise including the Italian branch of the WWF.

Once the situation is clearer, another update will be added.***

In a TV interview, the man, who is locally called Carnera of Trentino after the heavyweight Italian boxing champion from the 30s, proudly explained that he defended himself by punching and kicking the bear. He managed to escape with a few scratches, torn trousers and a bite mark on a shoe. The authorities reacted quickly announcing that “the dangerous animal” will be captured and they were also evaluating the possibility of killing it.

Daniza the bear - tried to survive an attack of ignorance and failed, alas

Daniza the bear – tried to survive an attack of ignorance and failed, alas

Conservation project

The incident stirred up the conflict that has been simmering in Trentino for a while. The protective mamma, known as Daniza, is one of the ten European brown bears from Slovenia that were transferred to the Dolomites as part of a reintroduction project “Life Ursus” in year 2000. The animal population has grown, and there are now an estimated 50 adult bears and cubs roaming the mountains and dense forests of the Trentino region making “Life Ursus” one of the most successful conservation efforts in Europe.

Unhappy farmers and Hungry politicians

However, not all local farmers are happy to share the mountains with the wild animals. Despite the healthy pay-outs for ruined crops and every domestic animal killed by a bear, some locals want to end the project. Last year a bear was shot by an allegedly angry farmer.

The issue has become political as the local politicians from the Northern League (Lega Nord) party jumped at the chance to drum up more votes. The party known (but is now actively courting voters in Italy’s south – Alex the Ed) for its unsavoury comments and resentment towards Southern Italy, racist remarks and a tough stance on immigration from Muslim countries calls for extermination of all brown bears in the region.

To lead the anti-bear movement Lega Nord Trentino organised an open-air banquet with bear meat served for everyone three years ago. As Maurizio Fugatti, a Northern League MP, cheerfully explained to the media, the event was supposed to send a signal to rural residents of Trentino that it was time to “reconquer their territory” and defend themselves from the bears. He said that they preferred the bears cooked.

Feeding the Bears

I, personally, would rather grill Fugatti with his cronies and feed them to the bears. Although, as any educated person knows, the fluffy giants mainly feed on berries, plants and honey rather than politicians (Digesting Italy’s politicians has never been easy – Alex the Ed).

Lega Nord offices in Trentino keep an accurate count of all the naughty activities of the local bears. Their press releases and media clippings make entertaining reading. “The bear strikes again”, “A bear tears poor Caterina to pieces ” (Caterina the donkey, that is, as the article clarifies), “A bear dines in a village” – the sensationalist titles scream.

What I also found interesting is the sums of money that the province pays to the farmers, who declare damages caused by the bears. One farmer received €1,423 after a bear mauled one of her donkeys and killed another. Another smallholder was paid a whopping €6,044 for the cherries eaten by the brown mammal. There’s good money to be made from feeding bears in Trentino it seems!

Bear Advocates Wanted

I grew up in Siberia, the land of brown bears, and even as a child I knew that you do not mess with those giants. There it would never occur to a person who is accustomed to sharing the woods with bears to hide behind a tree and watch a female with two cubs from a distance of 30 metres.

That is exactly what the clever mushroom forager did, naturally, putting his own life in danger. I asked an acquaintance of mine, Mario Cipollone, whether Italian bears are different from Siberian ones. He works for an Abruzzo-based bear charity called “Salviamo l’Orso” (“Let’s Save The Bear”) and knows a thing or two about them. Naturally, all bears are the same and in order to avoid incidents it is recommended to keep a distance of at least a few hundred metres in case you feel like bear watching. “Bears are normally observed at a distance of 1-2 kilometres with binoculars”, explained Mario.

Detailed explanations on how to co-exist with the mammal and what to do in case of a close encounter are published on the website of Adamello Brenta park that runs the “Life Ursus” project. Is it safe to assume that all locals carefully studied the instructructions? No. Mario has experience in dealing with farmers and trying to educate them about the bears.

“Unfortunately, it is not easy to have a dialogue with that group of people. Not all of them are against the bears but human beings are very selfish creatures and all bad things start from there”, said Mario Cipollone. That is one of the reasons why “Salviamo l’Orso” has employed three bear advocates to work with the locals.

Save Daniza

The news about the bear attack spread on Italian social media channels like wild fire. Italians environmentalists and animal lovers demanded to stop the imminent killing of the innocent mamma-bear who only wanted to protect her babies. Twitter exploded with hashtags #iostocondaniza and #daniza.

A Facebook Io Sto Con Daniza (“I am with Daniza”) received over 4000 likes in less than two days. The local authorities are saying now that they have located Daniza as she has a radio collar, and rather than killing they will just capture her. It is unclear what will happen to the bear and cubs after the capture. Let’s hope humanity prevails. And the MPs screaming “No bears, Muslims, or Sicilians” are re-located to an isolated mountain where nobody can hear them.

A Reprieve for Daniza?

Since the bulk of this article was written, it has come to light that instead of killing Danzia the mummy bear who merely wanted to protect her cubs, there’s now talk of capturing the bear and leaving her cubs out in the wild. The cubs are apparently old enough to fend for themselves.

Danzia may lose her freedom but should live and not end up on the dinner plate of some vote hungry Italian politician.

By Anna Lebedeva

Anna Lebedeva

Anna Lebedeva

Anna has lived in Russia and Ireland for many years. Now she lives and works as a freelance journalist in Italy and runs her Green Holiday in Italy travel blog.

When not researching or writing her next article, she tries to grow organic vegetables in her garden or to persuade her lively floppy-eared dog Gogol (named after the Russian writer) not to trample on the seedlings.

Anna loves creating her own vegetarian recipes, cooking, hiking in the Apennines or simply relaxing with a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine.

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  1. A Canadian Living in Turin says

    Having lived in North Vancouver, British Columbia, for nearly twenty years, I have had many involvments with black bears. Usually, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone, and alone means not standing there, even a few hundred meters away, watching. I have on several occassions, in the forest, and right outside of my home where I onced walked right in the path of a bear one time with my dog as we were walking between to parked cars, and the bear crossed at the rear of the cars, and walked right into him. The bear ignored us, and so it has been always the case in the forest. Bears take exception when you stare at them, they don’t like that, they consider it a threat. British Columbia has many bears and incidents with them, and rarely are there problems. The issue with bears here in Italy eating farmed berries only illustrates how ignorant and actually stupid, the authorities and italians are as far as bears a concerned. If you are going to reintroduce bears, you have to also reintroduce their natural environment and that means, give these bears alternate foods sources. Fish in rivers need to be restocked, and wild berries need to be distributed throughout the mountains. But then considering how greedy and selfish italians are, they will fishout the rivers and then go berry picking in the mountains.

    This country is really backward, selfish and ignorant. As a Canadian now living in Turin, I can tell you, the problem is not the reintroduction of bears and wolves in the mountains, but the fundamental backward attitudes, selfish of italians.

    Don’t shoot the bear…its the italians that need fixing.

    • Uapa says

      Seriously ashamed of being Italian at the moment, cos everything you said is seriously true. Apparently they expect nature to be like in a Disney film. The fools who want to catch mum Daniza are friends of friends of hunters or people who prefer to enjoy the snow. Cos ski and hunters bring more money, even if they kill more people than bears. Many people are fighting for mum bear, they’re being victims of abuses, evenfrom authorities. We don’t give up. Petitions, demonstrations, boycotting the region not buying their products and deleting holidays there. Separating her from her cubs, to close her in a zoo, is cruel and stupid. And dangerous, cos IF the cubs will survive, which is not certain, they’ll grow with probably wronv behaviours that could also be dangerous. Trentino region is having big money from EU, for the project to re introduce bears. Money to inform people how to deal with bears, money to protect farm animals, money to give bears the right tools to live, as you say. TThey’re not spending that money inthe right way. And in my opinion tthat’s mafia too and makes me so ashamed. We have many reasons to believe the man is lying and he wasn’t looking for mushrooms AND that mum bear didn’t attack him at all. I hope they’ll never find poor Daniza. But I’m so afraid they will and they’ll say they couldn’t avoid killing her, even of last year they signed a document saying she’s not dangerous at all. Your comment should be a lesson for those stupid Italians. Luckily we’re not all like that, but, being Italian myself, many are actually stupid and selfish. Please, if you can, sign a petition, write to the Provincia di Trento, boycott trentino and their products. Help us saving mum Daniza, please, help us being a civil country :-(

  2. Helena says

    Russian tourists are the largest contingent among the nationalities who visit the region every year. Boycotting the area is the only way to force the hand of locals and authorities alike. Could you please publish the same article in Russian to alert potential tourists in your home country about the boycott campaign to save the bear population in the Alps? Daniza and her cubs would appreciate…

    • Uapa says

      I wish I could translate it to Russian, unfortunately I don’t speak it and I don’t trust online translators :-(
      I agree that boycotting is the only way, sorry to say, as Italian.
      I know there are petitions online, like on Change.com to save Daniza or boycot trentino.
      Please, spread the message :-(

  3. says

    I am afraid, I don’t agree that boycotting Trentino will solve the problem. A lot of people depend on money that tourism brings, so it would be a harsh and unjust call to make. In Abruzzo, where we have brown bears, bear advocates try to work with the locals, educate them and explain how to co-exist with these animals. That would be useful in Trentino too.
    Regarding Russian tourists, I just want to point out that bear hunting is a very popular pastime in Russia. So, we can hardly expect them to boycott Trentino.

    • adriana says

      Russian people is not naif
      about corruption situations.
      They will be not much impressed by mother bear story and the all thing
      But they can use it to keep down Trentino standards in theyr own interest.
      Fine.No problems at all….lol!!!!!!!

  4. adriana says

    You might be right but the situation in Trentino is different than in Abruzzo
    Trentino Alto Adige had joudge founds from Europe in order of reintroducing brown bears in the Alps
    But they neglected the project and the birth controle of the animals developing instead turistic infrastructures and subtracting habitat to te bears.
    We are fighting against a voluntary fraud which is appearing now despite the trying of covering up from the local administration.
    They are taking a chance on European interests as well.

  5. rasenna12 says

    I am Italian, and I live in North America. I agree that there was mismanagement by the Province of Trento, and the bear repopulation programme in Northern Italy had some flaws.
    But I have the impression that those of you that care about wildlife and endangered species, when comparing Italy with other countries, are missing the broader picture.
    I would like to pinpoint some facts that some of you might not be aware of.
    Let me premise that bears have been living in Italy in the Abruzzo region for ever and I have never heard of problems of interaction with humans (I mean bears attacking humans and humans having to anesthetize them). This is because bears are in their natural habitat there and people know how to deal with them.
    As a result of national conservation programmes, there are still native bears and wolves in central Italy (how many western European countries have native bears and wolves?).
    Bear hunting in Italy is not allowed and it would not be even if bears were not an endangered species (if there is a hypothetical overpopulation, the “forestale” would be in charge of culling).
    But the most important piece of the broader picture is: in Italy, human beings are not allowed to hunt bears for fun and I consider this an important parameter with which I measure the civilization or backwardness of a country.
    What about Canada?
    These are just two examples
    And what about Germany, where a bear originally coming from Italy which did not show any kind of aggressive behavior towards humans was shot and killed in 2006? That bear could have been easily shot with an anesthetic.
    Italy might be a backward country for many instances, but in terms of wildlife protection it does fare better than many other countries which consider themselves at the top of the human development ladder.

  6. adriana says

    Daniza mother bear death is only the edge if an isberg of corruption, political manipulation and selfishness of the Trentino Alto Adige region.
    After receiving joudge founds from Europe in order to reindroduce bears in their alpine environnement Adamello-Brenta through the project Life Ursus the local administration have used e consistent part of the moneys to develop turistic infrastructures incompatible with the bear space, pushing antropization and live stok breeding without surveillance and maintenance of the protection tools….in other words neglectin the excessive reproduction of the bears in a becoming unfit ambience.
    The solution has been found in killing sistematicaly the bears accusing them to interfere with the humans interests
    No bear has developed indeed an aggressive behaviour against the humans.The last episode of man attack from the mother bear is up to now uncertain and conflictual.
    The region is instead very much projected in deforestation and development of infrastuctures for massive tourism.

  7. Verena Burger says

    Dear Anna Lebedeva,
    Many Countries have ignorance about the Animals…first of all Russia.
    Here was a little land of Italy as I hope you know….a little part of Italy called Trentino, were many Russians spend their Winter holiday….and for a ski slop, Daniza was killed….
    Please tell all the animals’ friends of your land to go next Winter in South Tyrol or Alto Adige or Val d’ Aosta….
    Many thanks
    Verena Burger

    • says

      I am very sorry, Verena, but despite my Russian name I do not consider Russia my land and I only write for English-language speakers. However, I would like to say if those people who hope that Russian tourists hold the key to this problem solution they are deeply wrong. Trentino is in Italy and it is up to you, Italians, to sort out the ignorance that is widely spread among local politicians. Russians have absolutely nothing to do with the problems of Trentino. And I will continue to write for English-speaking travelers who want to discover all corners of Italy, including Trentino, in a responsible and conscious way. Boycott is NOT a solution in this situation.

  8. Loretta says

    Coming from the same village as Maturi, he was attacked but it was his own stupid fault. Bears are wild animals and should be respected as such. Every year going back home from London I see the destruction the visiting Italians do to the area. They pick mushrooms. Berries ,flowers then sell them in the cities. They go off tracks and mess everything up so it becomes one big road.Regarding tourism it is only the hotels that flourish, locals have to bare and grin the disruption pollution and noise the tourists bring to the area. Yes the other writers are dead right ,there are some Italians who are selfish, egoisti as we call them. They want to grab things for nothing, they do not take their rubbish home with them and leave it hanging from trees in the forest or stuffed behind rocks. Yet there are those who live for the preservation of flora and fauna in the Trentino and the Guardia Forestale do a great job in keeping watch over the area. as do the locals who once the tourist have gone back to their cities, have to continue to live in the villages.

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