The killing of Bruno: act of cruelty, or bear necessity?

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The Independent Online

Bruno, the first wild bear seen in Germany for 170 years, has been shot dead by hunters in the Bavarian Alps, prompting a public outcry and fury from conservationists who had fought in vain to capture the animal alive after it went on a month-long spree of farm livestock killing in the region.

The two-year-old bear, nicknamed Bruno by the German media but dubbed "rampant brown bear JJI" by the authorities, was killed by a marksman armed with a powerful hunting rifle at 4.50am near the Spitzingsee lake in the Bavarian mountains yesterday, only hours after a ban on shooting the animal with live ammunition was lifted.

"The shot has been fired and the bear is dead," said Manfred Wölfl, a bear expert employed by the Bavarian government to track the animal. "Everyone knows that we would have preferred things to have turned out differently, but there was simply no other way of trapping the bear."

However, Bruno's death provoked a furious response from German and Austrian conservationists, who had enlisted a team of specialist Finnish bear hunters equipped with dogs, GPS position finders and anaesthetising stun darts in a forlorn attempt to take the bear alive.

Hubert Weinzierl, the President of Germany's Nature Protection Circle, described the shooting as: "The most stupid solution of all." He added: "I am deeply sad. The Germans should have taken a more relaxed attitude. In other countries bears and humans live peacefully alongside each other. Only in Germany are bears liquidated."

In Schliersee a press conference was interupted by self-described bear liberationist Bruno Engelhard, wearing a bear costume.

Spokesmen for the Bavarian and Austria hunters' associations said their organisations had been flooded with e-mails from the public, some of which threatened to murder hunters in retaliation for the bear's death. They said that as a result they were keeping the identities of hunters secret.

Germany's Nature Protection Association said the shooting was a "tragedy". A spokesman added: "In Austria, where bears were introduced several years ago, the animals walk past picnic tables and nobody bats an eyelid."

In Italy, Bruno's birthplace, Fulco Pratesi, the head of the country's World Wildlife Fund, described the shooting as an "act of barbarism".

Bruno wandered into Germany across the Austrian Alps from his birthplace in the Trentino district of Italy on 20 May. He was welcomed by the Bavarian state authorities as a sort of ursine prodigal son. Officials noted that the last wild bear was killed in the region in 1835.

But within days the animal started on a killing spree which led to the deaths of more than 35 sheep, dozens of chickens and domestic rabbits and the destruction of a beehive. Farmers in the region demanded the animal be shot on sight.

Bavaria was forced to admit that Bruno had become a "problem bear" but agreed to join forces with the WWF in an attempt to capture the animal alive, despite fears that its next victim would be human.

In the meantime, Bruno turned into a media celebrity, with reports of his whereabouts vying with the World Cup's progress on television. Germany was flooded with "Bruno T-shirts" and a mock "Bruno hunt" game featured on the internet.

The team of Finnish bear hunters was flown to Bavaria a fortnight ago. Equipped with a bear trap imported from the US, they covered more than 500 kilometres in the high Alps in a search for Bruno.

However, the bear eluded his pursuers at every turn. On one occasion Bruno managed to hunker down in a reception "blind spot", which made tracking him with GPS equipment impossible. Later, the bear was hit by the wing mirror of a car and was even seen sitting down outside a police station.

Bruno was last seen alive on Sunday evening by the owner of an inn located about 5,000 feet up in the Bavarian Alps. "My guests were having supper. I told them to stay inside. Then I went out and shouted at the bear and he ran off," the innkeeper said. The police were informed and hunters sent to track down the bear.

Several tourists in the Bavarian village of Schliersee, near where Bruno was shot, said they were relieved that the animal was dead. "It was high time that something was done. Any one of us could have been attacked," said one. But others said they were dismayed.

A spokeswoman for the Austrian WWF conceded that Bruno had become a threat to humans and said shooting the animal had always been an option. However, she insisted that the 20 wild brown bears ranging the Austrian Alps would not meet a similar plight. "They all live far from human habitation and pose no threat," she said.

In a gesture that seemed destined to provoke further outrage from animal lovers, Bavaria announced that Bruno's corpse would be delivered to a taxidermist and that a stuffed version of the bear would eventually be displayed at the state's "Museum for Man and Nature" in Munich.

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