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.
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.
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 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.