Italian Brown Bear Killed, Messner Supports Controversial Action

Conflict between humans and bears in Trentino, Italy was likely to flare up.

Rural shepherds anchor the northern Italian region’s traditional economy. Meanwhile, rewilding efforts have helped brown bear numbers rebound in recent years.

After over two decades of campaigning by ISPRA, Italy’s state wildlife management agency, the region’s endemic bears had recovered to a population of over 100.

There have been incidents with people before this, prompting arguments that there isn’t enough wilderness remaining in that area for people and bears to coexist. Recently, another one got too close for comfort.

Officials recently tracked and killed M90, a tagged brown bear in Val di Sole, following frequent reports of encounters on hiking trails and even in neighborhoods. Provincial authorities told The Guardian that M90 had become “excessively confident,” and ISPRA recommended removing the bear as soon as possible.

Legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner agreed with the controversial decision.

Reinhold Messner, one of the best alpinists of all time. Photo: Reinhold Messner


Conflict flares

“Kill them when they are dangerous, or send them to the Carpathians, where there is space,” he said in Il Dolomiti.

He went on to say he knew he would receive threats from animal rights activists, but that “no one thinks about bears” — only their own priorities.

Messner’s opinion was far from the only strong one, in an environment where bear encounters have increased and become politicized in recent years.

Last April, another bear, JJ4, mauled and killed hiker Andrea Papi, 26, near his home in Caldes. JJ4 had previously attacked two hikers in 2020.

Wildlife officials later trapped JJ4 under a kill order from Trentino president Mauricio Fugatti, but a local administrative court suspended the order. Fugatti has since been embroiled in legal battles with animal rights groups over how to deal with the region’s bears.

JJ4 had three cubs, similar to the brown bear shown here. Italian authorities say the cubs were already in the weaning phase and should be fine without their mother. Photo: Shutterstock


“[M90’s killing] was a brutal act,” Lucia Coppola, a provincial official for the Green Party, told The Guardian. “The animal had never caused any damage, it should not have been considered dangerous.”

Other animal rights groups claimed that M90 posed little threat to humans and accused Fugatti of ignoring public opinion on the issue.

Verifiable reports of M90’s behavior were not immediately available to ExplorersWeb.

Pleas for coexistence

Except for the animals themselves, bear experts often become singled out in human-bear conflicts. Zoologist Marco Apollonio told Il Dolomiti that’s the way it should be — but suggested that respect for professional input is lacking.

“It is unpleasant that competence is not recognized,” he said. “A dangerous bear must be removed from the natural environment. The evaluation in this case concerns the method: killing or capture.”

Apollonio then took the position that confining a wild animal like a bear, accustomed to large spaces, can increase its suffering.

A wild brown bear.

A wild brown bear. Photo: Shutterstock


Reinhold Messner emphasizes that his priority is a peaceful outcome.

“There’s no point in beating around the bush, the problem is coexistence with wild animals. I insist in saying that for me the objective is peace, to stop clashing between men over the presence of bears,” the mountaineer told La Stampa.

Apollonius offered a finer focus.

“We must not confuse the individual with the species,” he commented to Il Dolomiti. “No one is happy to remove a bear but we must have the courage to face a problem if we want the conservation of bears.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.