Italy, Marsican bear endangered, expert: “deaths are unacceptable”

Scritto da Federica di Leonardo il 28.03.2013

This article is available also in Italian

The marsican bear is a subspecies of the brown bear that can only be found in the National Park of Abruzzo and  surrounding areas. The population is currently forty, therefore, they are threatened by extinction.

This article was written in May 2012 at the time that the National Park of Abruzzo organised a press tour about the marsican bear.  

Foto  Carlo Romano

Foto Carlo Romano

The situation has not changed much since then and the marsican bears are still threatened by the actions of humans. This includes poaching, poisoning, car accidents and disease which result from the coabitation of wild and domestic animals.

Quite often newspapers only discuss Marsican bears when they venture into the small villages within the perimeter of the National Park of Abruzzo, in other words, when people can see the bears. This acknowledgement is, however, made in such a way that the articles seem to be describing some kind of Disney-like character.  If bears are presented in this way people may not realize that these animals are in fact in danger.

The National Park of Abruzzo organised a press tour on the 4th and 5th May 2012 that aimed to explain to journalists how to write correctly about Marsican bears.

These animals live solely in the centre of the Apennines, mainly in the National Park of Abruzzo, and they are seriously threatened with extinction. The current population is approximately 40 bears.

The press conference began with an introduction by the Park’s president, Giuseppe Rossi, who spoke about the difficulties the Park is experiencing in implementing the conservation of the bears. He also highlighted how the Park needs the support of other institutions, such as the regional, provincial and municipal governments.

Speaking after Giuseppe Rossi Luigi Boitani, professor at the University La Sapienza of Rome,  who has studied bears and large carnivores for several years, provided the journalists with more specific information on the issue.

Many people wonder what the exact number of bears in the Park is – Professor Boitani explained that it is not so important to have an exact number, rather a close estimate is sufficient.

In 2004 the first estimate of bear numbers was made using approximate research methods, whilst the most recent estimate,  in 2008, was achieved by the genetic analysis of fur samples. Researchers have therefore estimated a population of about 40 bears (somewhere between 37 and 52 bears). This very low number shows the extent to which the Marsican bear is in danger. Female bears breed every 3-4 years having 1-3 cubs and because of this every false move could be fatal.

According to Professor Boitani the conservation of this population of Marsican bears is also a challenge for the following reasons. Firstly,  the Park is located  close to  highly populated areas (the largest of which is the city of Rome); secondly, the population of the Marsican bear is already quite large when compared to the area of the Park itself.

The question Professor Boitani asks is “Can the  National Park of Abruzzo carry out the conservation of the Marsican bear alone?”. The answer is that even if the National Park of Abruzzo had all the money it required it would not be able to guarantee the conservation of the bears. To increase the bear population outside of the national park a network of protected areas, whilst preserving the  ecological corridors between the already existing protected areas, would be necessary.

Inside the national park the Marsican bears have on average 5-13 cubs per year. 2011 saw the the lowest birth rate among the bears since 2006, with only 3 cubs being born. Nonetheless, Professor Boitani urges us not to be alarmed since nature follows its own cycles.  

Another serious problem is the very high mortality rate of the bears. Between 1970 and 2009 108 bears died, of which 97 died within the Park. 82% of the bears  died of anthropic causes. Between 2002 and 2007 5-6 bears died each year. The causes vary and have changed over time –  during the 1980s the majority of bears died because of poaching while in the 1990s most bears died as result of car accidents. From 2000 most deaths were caused by poisoning and “such a number of deaths is unacceptable for the Park“, Professor Boitani stated.

Furthermore, the poison that kills the bears is not intended for them. The ultimate targets are wolves, wild boars and stray dogs.  “Here” Boitani explains “people call it ‘spring cleaning’, meaning they are ‘cleaning’ the area from animals that are not wanted”.

Poisoning is commonplace in the Apennines. In Abruzzo the hot-spot is the Fucino Valley. This malpractice is continuing to grow mainly for two reasons. Firstly, it is relatively easy to purchase poison, insect-powder or pesticides, all of which could be lethal if ingested by bears (as happened to a bear called Bernardo in 2007); secondly, it is very difficult to find those who spread poison because according to Italian law they must be caught in the act of spreading the poison. This is almost impossible to do within the Park and this is why the culprits are never punished.

“For these reasons the Park must design an extra-ordinary plan for the conservation of the Marsican bear”, explained Boitani.  It is essential to reduce the risk of mortality and find solutions to improve the coexistence of humans and wild animals. In addition, the management of the cattle and horses allowed to roam free within the Park causes problems for conservation.

Moreover, in Professor Boitani’s opinion local governments must be assisted  and local communities must be involved in implementing strategies for the conservation of the bears. As a study of the University La Sapienza points out  98% of inhabitants of the villages within the national park love the bears and are in favour of making sacrifices for their conservation.

It would be a great loss if Italy is not be able to save this so very important animal. Bears add an element of fascination to Abruzzo’s already greatly rich and beautiful natural environment. Abruzzo welcomes tourists from all over the world, many of them from England and France, hoping to see the Marsican brown bear.

Translated by Hana Hamaz

  • Disney games scrive:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about environment in italy.