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.
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.
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.