June 3, 2023

A female bear accused of fatally mauling a jogger in northern Italy is innocent, animal rights activists told AFP on Thursday, saying teeth marks on the victim proved the aggressor was male. 

The 17-year-old bear, identified as JJ4, is being held in a high-security enclosure while a court in the Trentino province, decides whether or not she should be destroyed.

“JJ4 is innocent,” animal welfare association Leal said.

The capture of Jj4 in Val Meledrio by the Trentino Forest Service.

Province of Trentino

The brown bear is accused of killing Andrea Papi while he was running on a woodland path in the mountainous region near his village on April 5. The 26-year-old sustained injuries to his neck and head.

Papi’s family had said they didn’t want the bear culled.

Trentino’s president, Maurizio Fugatti, said traces of JJ4 were found at the scene and he ordered her capture, vowing to destroy her.

Trento provincial authorities ordered her euthanized, but animal rights groups appealed to an administrative court, which suspended the order.

Officials in Trento announced last month that the female bear had been captured overnight in a tube trap, baited by fresh fruit.

“The removal of Jj4 now ensures greater peace of mind and security in the area,” officials said in a statement along with a photo of the bear’s capture.

Jj4 is the same Alpine brown bear that injured a father and son out walking in the region in 2020. Then too, Trento provincial authorities ordered her killed but a court blocked the move.

The bear was separated from her three two-year-old cubs, but activists have issued a legal appeal against the kill order.

Among documents being examined by the court, which is set to rule on May 24, is a forensic report submitted by the region and drawn up by pathologist Mattia Barbareschi, who was present at the autopsy.

He found bite marks “characterized by a distance between them of about 8cm to 8.5cm, which is the typical distance between the canines of an adult bear”.

Leal said it has presented the court with another forensic report, done by two veterinary experts who studied Barbareschi’s findings, which claim the distance between the canines was “typical of an adult male”, not a female.

“We have asked the court to order a specialised veterinary doctor to examine the specimen, to measure her teeth,” Leal’s lawyer Aurora Loprete said.

The association also said finding traces of JJ4’s DNA at the scene were not proof she was the killer, questioning if the collection process had been done properly.

Leal said the autopsy also showed it was “a protracted attempt by the bear to distance and dissuade the victim”, rather than “a deliberate or predatory attack”.

Papi’s death launched a debate on the dangers posed by bears, which were reintroduced to the region between 1996 and 2004.

There are around 100 of them now in Trentino, according to the province.

European brown bear foraging among rocks on mountain slope.
A European brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) foraging among rocks on mountain slope in Italy.

Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Fugatti had ordered JJ4 to be put down in 2020, after two hikers were attacked, but that order was overturned by a court.

JJ4 was fitted with a radio collar instead so she could be tracked, but the battery on the device ran flat and was not replaced.

Animal rights groups insist bears normally keep their distance from people and it is up to local authorities to ensure that people are kept away from zones where female bears are raising their cubs.

In 2020, a brown bear was caught on camera climbing onto a balcony of an apartment building in the northern Italian city of Calliano.

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