International call to action [ENG]
The “Life Ursus Project”, funded by the EU, started in 1999, with the goal of bringing bears back into the Alps in the north of Italy. In the past century, hunting had caused the extinction of Brown Bears in their own habitat. 9 individuals (3 males and 6 females, aged 3 to 6 years) were therefore kidnapped from Slovenian forests, chosen purposefully to recreate a population comprising 40 to 50 individuals within 20 to 40 years. The eligible areas covered over 1700 sq km and comprised the western part of Trentino as well as the provinces of Bolzano, Brescia, Sondrio, and Verona.
As the years passed, the unsustainable exploitation of mountain regions progressed, while new generations of bears continued to be born. This made it easy for many individuals to come in close contact with the people of Trentino. In the great majority of cases, meetings with humans have been peaceful as well as rare, since most actual encounters were with animals left unattended in the mountains by their farmers, which could lead to predation and therefore to a profit loss.
The current fascist local government, which has been in power in the Trentino province since 2018 and is led by president Maurizio Fugatti, has been systematically killing, deporting and imprisoning freeborn bears in zoos as well as in the bear prison “Casteller”, located near Trento. Such bears were targeted as soon as they caused even minor damages in the Trentino territory. Their fault was existing as bears and living in an area where farmers, hunters and their lobbies are unwilling to accept even the most basic cohabitation norms.
Attacks on humans have been sporadic at best, never lethal and always in order to protect offspring or due to the bear being surprised by the human. Notwithstanding, president Fugatti never put measures in place such that citizens could get educated to this newly found coexistence, nor took preventive actions like installing anti-bear trash cans in all mountain villages. The administration instead pursued aggressive and homicidal policies against bears simply living in their territory, eventually extending such measures to other large wild animals like wolves and boars.
The reason for all of this does not lie within an uninterested, cruel disposition of these specific administrators, but rather within a variety of reasons, like politicians protecting the interests of powerful hunting and farming lobbies and generating strong emotions to attract potential electors. After all, many failures had to do with how the project itself did not plan ahead, the main focus being on creating new naturalistic tourism while no attention was given to potential issues that now haunt the bears, like their small genetic diversity and their tendency to stay within one territory due to man-made or natural barriers.
To answer the failures of the project, many activists from all over Italy joined together to create the #StopCasteller campaign, whose objective is to prevent the killing or imprisonment of other bears. After two years of a multi-level radical campaign, the activists achieved that no bear was ever captured and held in the Casteller prison. But the bears that were held there were moved to parks and zoos outside Italy with almost secret transfers. M.Fugatti, the presidente of the Region, intends to proceed with other killings whenever it has the opportunity.
What’s happenging with Johnny the bear (MJ5):
On the 5th March 2023, in a wood 2000 meters above sea level in Val di Sole, Trentino, a bear and a human met. The man was walking with his dog, but it is still unclear whether the dog was on a leash. They bumped into the bear on a blind curve on their path, which prevented any of them from noticing the others’ presence. The man, frightened, decided to flee. The bear was scared as well, and reacted in the way bears normally do when someone runs from them: he plunged forward. The man’s reaction was obviously understandable, but it still is one of the worst ways to handle a bear meeting.
The clash was luckily short-lived and led to no serious consequences, since the man and the bear tumbled down a slope and the latter soon fled. The man was later able to get back to the city and get medicated, but as soon as the piece of news spread, the actual dynamics still unclear, Maurizio Fugatti – president of the province of Trento and member of the fascist Lega party – pulled his usual stunts and announced his intention of killing the bear.
The bear was genetically identified as a 18 yo male individual, referred to through the usual naming pattern as MJ5, after his actually-named parents Maja and Joze, two of the original bears introduced from Slovenia. In his 18 years of life, this is the first time he was involved in any kind of accident involving a human. And yet, without the least consideration for the mitigating circumstances regarding the encounter and the individual himself, the local government confirms their resolve to kill.
The expected procedure will start with sedating and capturing MJ5 in order to apply to him a telemetry collar, so that he can be easily individuated when the Province finally decides to proceed with the killing. Murdering this “dangerous specimen” without later legal struggles would usually require the ISPRA, a publicly-funded research centre which also deals with wildlife, to deliver their explicit agreement. However, a recent change to the laws has made such approval unnecessary if the animal is deemed problematic enough, and Fugatti intends to proceed without it.
We could say MJ5 is currently a “dead bear walking”: he is currently on the move, walking in his mountains as he always did, unaware of the incoming danger. Some say, however, that it could take weeks or even months to catch him, since he has always been a reserved and fast-moving individual.
Yet, cheering for him chanting “Run, bear, run!” won’t be enough to save his life. Sympathetic people and groups from all over the world need to get active now, so that information can circulate and their opposition to yet another abuse against non-humans can be fully heard.
Updates 22 March 2023:
“We have been fearing this moment for the past few weeks, and such moment unfortunately came. Anonymous sources, close to the Autonomous Province of Trento, inform us that the hunt for Johnny (MJ5) has officially begun. This comes after Ispra (scientific technical institute of the Ministry of environment and wildlife protection) agreed on capturing him in order to provide him with a radio collar.
A capture aimed at monitoring the bear’s movements could be seen as a reasonable compromise, in place of an immediate execution. However, we know that the real intention behind President Fugatti’s decision to apply the radio collar is exclusively facilitating the later killing of Johnny.
In fact the collar will allow him to locate and identify Johnny more quickly when time for the execution comes.
But there’s more: the way of applying the radio collar actually hides intrinsic risks that cannot be underestimated. From the beginning of the Life Ursus project, many bears have been captured via telenarcosis for “routine” operations, and 4 of them died due to complications: bear KJ2G1 in 2008, Daniza in 2014, the young JJ5 in 2015, and F43 just over 6 months ago. Johnny is one of the oldest bears in Trentino and the risk of complications is huge. Johnny may never wake up from the anesthesia.
Faced with a situation that threatens to precipitate within a few days, we continue supporting Johnny’s escape. We don’t want him to be just a number, and that’s why we named him after a known partisan, fleeing the mountains to the chant of “Run, bear, run” (corri orso, corri). Bear Johnny needs, now more than ever, the active solidarity of everyone. While he continues his escape hunted by the istitutions, we must fight with him for his freedom
CALL TO ACTION
Support the campaign and the activists!
Even if you don’t live in Italy and can’t physically be part of the protest, you can still make your voice heard and participate in online initiatives.
1) Get our story spread. Share posts and spread information about bears in Trentino.
follow the news on instagram and facebook:
2) Write a sign, post a selfie, an illustration. Use creativity and express your dissent online on your social accounts and use the tag #corriorsocorri (run bear run)
3) Write an e-mail to the institutions of Trentino to express your opinion and ask them to change the policies against bears. Since the regional economy is heavily based on European tourism, international pressure is vital.