1st Bear in Germany in 170 Years Makes Timely Escape

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
May 23, 2006

The first wild bear to roam Germany in over 170 years has apparently left the country, and just in time. Authorities in the German state of Bavaria were prepared to capture or possibly shoot the animal.

The brown bear was first spotted over the weekend, when regional environment minister Werner Schnappauf told the AFP news agency that the animal "was welcome in Bavaria."

Authorities assured residents that they should not fear the bear, which reportedly originally came from Slovenia and traveled through Austria to Germany (see map of Germany), according to WWF, the international conservation organization.

But the bear quickly killed seven sheep and raided a chicken coop before presumably returning to Austria.

The trail of damage highlights the sometimes problematic human/bear relationship in densely populated Europe.

"Unfortunately, it seems that, in [this bear's] case, while he's wandering, he's getting a taste for farm animals and pets and coming into close contact with people," said Sybille Klenzendorf, a bear biologist with WWF in Washington, D.C.

"That can happen, especially with young bears. They have to learn what to do and what not to do."

Bear Controversy

There are believed to be about 14,000 brown bears in Europe, not including Russia.

Many make their homes in the Carpathian Mountains of southeastern Europe—particularly in Romania, where the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu protected them for his own hunting pleasure.

In the mountains of France, Italy, and Austria, very small groups—each numbering a few dozen animals or fewer—hang on.

In such areas disputes over the value of bears have unleashed passionate debate. Last month France released a female Slovenian bear to try to boost the flagging population in the Pyrenees Mountains, which is currently estimated at 14 to 18 animals.

Continued on Next Page >>


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