- Italy -
I have been trying to write this article for days, but every time I found rage taking the upper hand and I was forced to put it on hold.
Time is running out and a decision needs to be made about the precious life of a 17-year-old bear, Gaia, also known as JJ4 (as if she was a manufacturing part!)
JJ4 is officially named after her parents, Joze and Jurka, who were brought to Italy from Slovenia as part of the European Union-funded Life Ursus project to reintroduce bears into Trentino between 1996 and 2004.
The Life Ursus project began in 1999 with the introduction of three male and six female bears in the Trento forests, aiming to rebuild the population to 40-60 bears over a few decades. But the population has rebounded to more than 100 identified bears who are having more and more encounters with the human population.
On the early morning of Wednesday, April 5, 2023, 26-year-old Andrea Papi went jogging through the Caldes woods surrounding the town of Val di Sole in the northern Italian region of Trentino Alto Adige. When he did not return home, his family raised the alarm and his body was found overnight. Two days later, an autopsy concluded cause of death by bear attack. Through DNA matching of fecal matter and other bodily fluids left near Papi’s body, Gaia was later identified as the one who had the encounter in her habitat with Papi.
Experts say Gaia’s behavior may have been linked to a perceived threat against her three 2-year-old cubs in the weaning phase.
Gaia wears a GPS radio collar that tracks her movements, however, according to Italian news agencies the batteries of the collar were dead at the time of the encounter.
Local authorities asked for Gaia to be euthanized, and in fact, on April 12, 2023, Mr. Maurizio Fugatti, president of the Autonomous Province of Trentino, signed the order to cull her.
Understandably and rightfully, several Italian wildlife protection agencies and animal rights organizations opposed that order. Following the countless appeals, an administrative court suspended Mr. Fugatti’s order to kill Gaia. Mr. Fugatti now has until May 11, 2023, to find out what Administrative Court of Trento will decide.
CNN reports: “A statement on the Anti-Vivisezione website (anti-medical testing of animals) said that they petitioned the court to protect JJ4 because the order to cull was ‘an action that appeared more like a gesture of revenge against the bear than an effective search for everyone’s safety in a peaceful and informed coexistence’.”
Meanwhile, the poor Gaia has been captured and separated from her cubs during the night of Tuesday, April 18, 2023! Forest rangers with dogs tracked her paw-prints in the snow. She was lured with apples and corn in a tube trap. Gaia was with her babies. Two of her babies were also initially trapped before being released. Gaia was then taken to a wildlife center in Casteller (where other bears are also imprisoned).
Following her capture, during a press conference, Mr. Fugatti said the presence of law enforcement in front of Casteller Wildlife Center has been strengthened due to the protests by animal rights activists. He also said: “We would have killed her on the spot.” And added: “As far as we are concerned, if the court allows it ... we will proceed with the killing.”
Mr. Fugatti denounced the defensive arguments made by animal rights groups as “ideological”.
It is also worth mentioning that Mr. Fugatti had already ordered Gaia’s murder in 2020 following the wounding of two excursionists. At the time, the Administrative Court of Trento did oppose the order, however, they are now saying that Papi’s death could have been prevented had they decided differently.
Papi’s mother said she is not in favor of killing Gaia because this will not bring back her son. She did add that she does expect the authorities to do the right thing by providing her son dignity and justice, however, she did not specify how.
To this regard, Ms. Michela Brambilla, Italian politician and animal rights activist, has explained that there are also bears in the Abruzzo region and has stressed how similar incidents do not happen there thanks to the efficient security measures implemented. Ms. Brambilla denounced the lack of precautions taken by local officials in Trentino Alto Adige. She said they failed to promote safety measures aimed at warning residents which areas are safe and which should not be approached due to the presence of bears. Ms. Brambilla rightfully said that killing one bear or transferring them will not solve the problem and that this feels like an eye-for-an-eye situation.
For my part, I feel that people must be educated and must accept that the territory does not belong to mankind and that both animals and humans must and can co-exist. It is heartbreaking to know that, whilst this discussion ensues and the decision to end Gaia’s life is pending, she has woken up in an unfamiliar environment without her babies and them without her.
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