Bears are making headlines again, and it's frightening some. In Italy, a bear attack recently killed a 26-year-old jogger in the Trentino municipality of Caldes. In Rosenheim, Upper Bavaria, a brown bear tore sheep on an alpine pasture. And bear tracks have also been spotted in the snow in Tyrol.
The situation in Germany
Although there are currently no permanent native brown bears roaming through Germany, according to the WWF environmental foundation, they were last here at the beginning of the 19th century, many in the extreme south of the republic are wondering: Are the animals coming back now?
In principle, state experts consider this to be conceivable, at least in the long term: indications from the Bavarian districts of Oberallgäu and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the years 2019 to 2022 would show that brown bears are in the border areas with Germany. That said the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) at the request of the German Press Agency. "It is still quite possible that more bears will migrate to Germany in the future," it said. A permanent resettlement of brown bears in Germany is not likely in the immediate future, "however, in the long term it still cannot be ruled out".
From time to time it would happen that a bear appears across the border of neighboring countries, said Jörn Ehlers, spokesman for the WWF. "Especially males are looking for their territory or a mate." The bears leave their mother when they are about three years old and look for something of their own. In some other European countries one already has more experience with bears than in this country. According to the WWF, there are currently around 17,000 brown bears in Europe.
The Carpathian country in Romania counts one of the largest populations. A study commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment puts the number of bears in Romania at 7,500 to 8,000. At the same time, the Ministry considers a number of 4,000 to be reasonable. Again and again the large fur-bearing animals tear sheep, rummage through rubbish bins, break into houses and stables or attack camping tourists. In 2021 and 2022, the Department of Environment recorded 47 bear attacks on humans. Some attacks are fatal. If there is imminent danger, the mayors, supported by a local committee of experts, can now decide at short notice whether a bear should be shot. Environmental and animal rights activists criticize the way the problem is dealt with, which focuses on killing animals.
Italy's bear population is present in the north of the country in Trentino, in the border area with Slovenia and in the central Apennines around the regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise. In the central Apennines, the Italian environmental agency Ispra assumes there are around 50 animals. However, the population is shrinking. In Trentino, the authorities have been reporting about 100 wild bears since the EU settlement project "Life Ursus" - there the number is constantly increasing. The deadly bear attack on a jogger left many startled. The female bear JJ4, who has already attracted attention several times, is the sister of the bear Bruno, who appeared in Germany in 2006. His description as a "problem bear" by the then Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber became a dictum 17 years ago.
The last census of brown bears in Sweden is from 2017. At that time there were around 2900. There they are strictly protected and, like other large predators, can only be hunted under strictly controlled conditions. A so-called protective hunt can be permitted to prevent damage to reindeer, cattle or houses. In Croatia there are about 1000 to 1200 brown bears in the wild, 400 to 500 of them in the Velebit National Park in the hinterland of the Kvarner Bay, which lies with the port of Rijeka on the upper Adriatic.
According to the private brown bear foundation, there are an estimated 450 animals in Spain, around 70 of them in the border area of the Pyrenees with France, which cannot be clearly assigned to one of the two countries. The number of animals tends to increase.
A possible return of wild animals in Germany means challenges, says the BfN. According to the WWF, the brown bear is the largest terrestrial carnivore in Europe. Bavaria published a management plan for the bear in 2007. It should enable humans and bears to coexist with as little conflict as possible.
Ehlers from the WWF also sees advantages of bears in Germany: "Bears actually belong here. It would be nice if we had them here. That can also make the wilderness attractive, like in other countries." What is important, however, is good interaction between humans and animals. It should be noted not to feed the bears. By feeding, the bear gets too close to humans, which can become dangerous. Action must then be taken in conflict situations. Smaller areas would have to be closed off and bears would have to be scared off if they get too close. "If it gets too dangerous, you have to take them out of the wild," says Ehlers. However, bears are not dangerous per se. "Bears are opportunists." They therefore eat easy prey like sheep and do not naturally attack humans.