The Bear Necessities

Daniza looks warily at the camera as she nurses her cubs.  Freeze frame from a video shot by forest rangers in Italy and provided by the Trentino Provice

Daniza looks warily at the camera as she nurses her cubs. Freeze frame from a video shot by forest rangers in Italy and provided by the Trentino Provice. Note: these are an earlier litter of bear cubs.

There is a fierce debate raging in Italy about a Mama bear named Daniza.  Daniza lives in the woods in the Italian alps in the Trentino region.

On August 9th a 38-year-old “fungaiolo” (a mushroom hunter) came across Daniza as she was with her eight-month old cubs.  He apparently hid behind a tree but she went after him mauling him a bit as he tried to escape.  The mushoom hunter spent a few hours in the hospital and left with 40 stitches from scratches to his arms, legs and back.

The Region of Trentino then decided that it was too dangerous for Daniza to be on the loose and has set about trying to capture her.  If and when they will capture her, they will put her in a 10,000 meter fenced in area to live out the rest of her life. According to Roberto Mase’, Director General for the Forest Department of the Province of Trento, Daniza is not wary enough of human beings and it is too dangerous to leave her free.

Daniza is one of 50 bears in the Trentino region of the Italian Alps. In 1999 Italy began taking part in a bear reintroduction project  called Life Ursus funded by the EU to bring bears back to the region. According Mase’, nine bears were brought into the region from Slovenia and have reproduced rapidly – there are now a total of 50 bears in Trentino.  These bears have a roughly 400 square kilometer area in which to live.

Animal rights groups are up in arms.  According to Pierpaolo Cirillo, a activist for the Italian group “Animalisti”, “The mushroom hunter knew he was entering an area where bears are present. Luckily, he did not get seriously injured as the bear did not mean to kill him but only wanted to protect the cubs. I do not understand why authorities are talking about interrupting the project and re-capturing the bear after she finally settled down in the new environment.”

Daniza, who is now 18-years-old,  has been captured before and like the other bears in the program wears a radio collar around her neck, so they generally know where she is although sometimes she moves through areas with little radio range.  Forest rangers have set up cages around the woods and have put tempting food items inside in the hope of getting her.  So far she has avoided the cages.

Bear trap set up in the woods in Trentino to catch Daniza.  Freeze frame of video shot by Italian Forest Rangers and provided by the Province of Trentino. August 22, 2014

Bear trap set up in the woods in Trentino to catch Daniza. Freeze frame of video shot by Italian Forest Rangers and provided by the Province of Trentino. August 22, 2014

Meanwhile, the tale of Daniza and the possibility that she might be separated from her cubs has sparked an uproar on social media.  Hashtags on twitter #iostocondaniza (I’m with Daniza) or #Danizalibera are filled with pleas to leave Daniza free.  In addition there is an on-line petition to save Daniza titled “Save Daniza, the Mama Bear” http://www.thepetitionsite.com/212/812/645/save-daniza-the-mama-bear/ which the last time I checked has already gathered over 100,000 signatures from Italy, all over Europe and as far away as Thailand, South Africa and Venezuela.

Officials in Trentino say that given that Daniza’s cubs are eight months old, they will not have any difficulty surviving without her.  However, with a quick check on the World Wildlife Fund website I found the following about brown bears “Cubs usually remain with the mother until the third or fourth year of their life. Although they mature sexually between 4-6 years of age, the species continues to grow until 10-11 years old. In the wild, the brown bears can reach 20 to 30 years of age.”

This morning I checked in with Giampaolo Pedrotti, the spokesman for the Trentino region, and he said that Daniza is still free.  I think given all the media attention, they may even be hoping that Daniza avoids the cages.

Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen plenty of bears in the wild.  The first was while camping with my father and sister in the Shenandoah mountains in Virginia.  A nice big black bear came wandering down the trail towards our tent as my sister and I were washing the dishes and my father was setting up our sleeping bags.  The bear veered off into the woods and sat down to enjoy our horrible freeze-dried beef burgundy that my father had bought at Eastern Mountain Sports (the latest thing in the 1970s in light weight camping food, use the same freeze dried dishes the astronauts take to the moon).

While the bear enjoyed our dinner, we fretted around our campsite until a Forest Ranger came down the path and warned us that we must tie up every possible item of food or the bear would come into our tent to get it during the night.    As we thought about throwing a rope over a tree, the ranger headed away adding, “Oh, and don’t even keep your toothpaste in your tent, unless you like snuggling with a bear because he’ll be heading in straight after that too.” This last comment made us so apprehensive that we packed up all our stuff and made a two hour night hike out of the park.  It was a thrilling adventure.

Another time we were staying at a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and as people were waking up and getting breakfast, a bear walked into the campground.  The people next to us were just sitting down to a big pancake breakfast and had a small tub of butter on the table.  The bear walked up to the table — as the campers scattered — grabbed the tub of butter and stuck his nose and paw into, in sheer pleasure.

As a mother, I bumped into a grizzly bear with my youngest daughter Chiara while walking down a trail in the Canadian Rockies.  We had heard there were grizzlies around and were well-versed on what you are supposed to do if you meet one. “Throw your pack with any food in it far away, and make yourself into a ball, protecting your vital body parts.  Whatever you do, do not climb a tree or try to run away, a grizzly bear will get you.”  Lucky for me, I got a good glimpse of that grizzly bear as she ran along a lake at the bottom of the valley, my daughter and I were half-way up the side of the valley and she seemed to be running past and away from us. Maybe she was well-versed on what a bear should do when she meets a human Mama with a cub.

Finally, this summer while driving near Crawford’s Notch in New Hampshire, heading out for a day which included a long hike, we saw a great big black bear cross the road and head into the woods. All this is to say I love seeing bears in the wild and I hope Daniza remains free.

However, I do understand the problem the Trentino Province is facing.  There are too many people living in the Italian Alps and the forested area is not wild or vast enough for the bear population to increase much more. If you are interested, here is the video shot by the Forest Rangers of Daniza with another litter of cubs two years ago.

UPDATE: An important thought from my mother who has spent considerable time in Northern Maine, where there are a lot of bears.  A quick look at the Maine Fisheries and Wildlife website indicates that in Maine there are between 24,000-36,000 bears (think of that compared to a mere 50 in the Trentino Province of Italy).  There is also legal hunting and trapping of bears which they call “harvesting”.  In 2013, according to a graph on the website, 2,845 bears were “harvested” (killed) in Maine.   My mother–who is not in favor of killing in animals, but is always interested in obtaining information–  has chatted with bear hunters who have told her that if they really want to catch a bear, they  put out an entire box of Dunkin Donuts.

Good thing there aren’t any Dunkin Donuts in Italy — Daniza may remain free for a while longer.

17 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Carina
    2014/08/25

    I kind of wonder about the wisdom of reintroducing bears to that region in the first place… Seems too small an area, too close to population centers, and with no apparent predators to prevent bear reproduction/population growth.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/26

      Carina, you are right. This year I went straight from a vacation in New England to one in the Italian Alps and I was struck that in New England — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont — we seem to have a lot more wild, forested area than in the Alps. And the East Coast has much less forests than other parts of the US. I forget sometimes how heavily populated and developed most of Italy is compared to the US.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Adri
    2014/08/26

    Wow. She sure is big. I hope she remains free, and I hope the mushroom hunters stay away. Perhaps the rangers will never succeed in trapping her. It really is a modern dilemma – who gets the space-the wild life or the humans?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/26

      I am a starting to think that the forest rangers would rather not capture her and are not really putting tempting food in the traps. They said it would take just a few days to capture her and now it has not happened. I think they are worried about all the negative publicity and are hoping everyone will forget about her. Anyway, you hit on a key point Adri — there is not enough space in the Italian Alps. It is a beautiful area but a lot of people live up there.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2014/08/26

    My heart aches for these creatures whom we refuse to adjust to having around us. They, too, have a right to freedom, in my opinion. And why is mushroom hunting more important than the free life of a bear? The idea of re-introducing bears to a region, then removing those who upset you, and orphaning their young in the process, is an outrage to me. I hope your animal rights activists will prevail here, and change the public thinking.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Alan
    2014/08/26

    . . co-existance! This one area where Turkey has triumphed – from dancing bears to a healthy, free bear population that is fully protected in so few years (illegal to harm/hunt from 1993 sanctuary opened 2003). Add in the fabulous reserve at Bursa near the Sea of Marmara for those bears injured or otherwise unable to survive in the wild and you have a great success story.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/26

      Wow! I had no idea that Turkey has triumphed in bear protection. That is wonderful news and absolutely unreported — or maybe I am just not looking for my news in the right places. Well Done Turkey!

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    John
    2014/08/26

    A timely post. Bear hunting season started in Maine yesterday. Gives me great pain. Dick saw a young bear come out of our field and cross the road a week or so ago. My encounters,with black bears have all been benign. Although any animal will be belligerent if they have young.. Maine’s peaceful moose can also attack if they are protecting young, and my owl encounter is another illustration, Maine has a ballot initiative on Novembers ballot to outlaw bear baiting, a terrible practice..It was rejected once before but people seem to think it will pass this time. Viva Daniza and her cubs,

    L/D

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/26

      Thanks Dad. I am curious to know– what is bear baiting– and what are bears baited with? I know nothing about it.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Gwen Thomas
    2014/08/26

    WOW! I thought I was angry enough this morning with Texan naivety, it has just been amped up another notch.

    Firstly, bears live in the wild. That mushroom hunter was on the bears turf and was lucky to escape with a few scratches/stitches. Who the heck approaches a bear nursing cubs (any animal for that matter)? Even if you come across it accidentally, get the heck out of there. Don’t just stand behind a tree.

    Secondly, yes, bears do become accustomed to humans as they have in your stories of our family experiences, however Daniza certainly wasn’t raiding campsites. She was in the forest, nursing her cubs.

    Thirdly, if they do capture her, she should NOT be kept in an enclosure! She should be relocated to another location where there is enough room for her to live freely, which is what I presume the project folks studied before they started this relocation project. They should have the numbers on square km needed per bear.

    Fourthly, if she is radio collared, they should know where she is at all times and know if she is in trouble or not. In this case, she was in her natural habitat.

    Fifthly, those cubs must stay with their mother. She is the one who teaches them survival skills for as long as it needed. They may survive, but they are far more likely to find the easiest food possible (from human campsites) if they have not learned from her.

    Lastly (although I am sure I have a few more “lys” to offer), where are the folks from Life Ursus in this conversation? They need to be front and center in the dialogue about their project and efforts at reintroducing bears to the area.

    Darn it. I am heading to that website now, angry as a mother bear!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/27

      I love it Gwen!n You go girl!

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    lisa | renovatingitaly
    2014/08/26

    Oh don’t tell my ten year old Luca about bears here in Italy he’ll be camping out to see one. Hope the humans and the bears keep a healthy distance from each other. xxx

    PS that Bear knew to run from you Mamma Bear xxx

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Gwen Thomas
    2014/08/27

    Might be worthwhile for them to study the impact of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone. There is lots of tension around it especially when they move onto farm land and take a few sheep or cattle. Same with elephants in Kenya. Farmers get upset and rightly so as it is their livelihood. Farmers/communities and scientists need to work together and make sure these animals have the space they need.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/08/27

      They definitely should study these other cases. I don’t know if you saw my response to another message below, but now another bear M25 (Maschio (male) 25) has attacked and killed some donkeys and other bears have invaded some honey farms. I am sorry about the donkeys who were killed, but it is hard not to giggle a bit about the honey. “Isn’t funny how a bear likes honey! Buzz, Buzz, Buzz, I wonder why he does?”
      Still, it is becoming a serious problem that needs to be addressed for the safety of humans, domestic animals and the bears.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Barbara Landi
    2014/08/27

    I am with you & Daniza. Leave her and her family alone where they are. Anyone stupid enough to intrude on her territory must accept the consequences.

    Reply
  10. Avatar
    John
    2014/08/29

    Bear baiting is setting a trap and baiting it with something bears really like, such as donuts (Bears and policemen share that addiction) then the hunter returns and shoots the bear in the trap. Inexcusable cruelty.

    Dad

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/02

      Oh, that does sound terrible. I will give credit to the Forest Rangers in Trentino that they are trying to trap Daniza to put her into a fenced in area, but are not planning to kill her.
      On a lighter note, it is awfully funny that both bears and policemen have such a weakness for donuts!

      Reply

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