Alps odyssey ends for Bruno the bear

Celebrity animal that roamed Europe shot

June 27, 2006|By JEFFREY FLEISHMAN | JEFFREY FLEISHMAN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN -- Bruno has eaten his last sheep.

The 220-pound brown bear who knocked over honeypots and ravaged livestock, who roamed the Bavarian Alps like an outlaw on the run, eluding farmers and Finnish hounds, was tracked by three hunters and shot just after dawn yesterday.

The first wild bear known to have to meandered into Germany in more than 150 years was "painlessly done away with" near the town of Rotwand, said Otmar Bernhard, undersecretary of the Bavarian Environment Ministry. "We will perform a genetic examination of the bear, then preserve and exhibit him in the museum for man and nature in Munich."

Outrage echoed from mountain ridge to valley. "Bears of the world: Avoid Bavaria," said Hubert Weinzierl, president of the German Ring of Nature Preservation. "In other countries, bear and man are living peacefully together. Only in Germany is the bear liquidated."

Bruno, who wandered up from Italy and across Austria last month, was given the scientific name JJ1. The media preferred Bruno, and farmers called him unprintable names. He had a taste for chickens and sheep, and dined on at least one pet guinea pig. He left bloody footprints and dozens of carcasses across meadows and along riverbanks.

Bruno began roaming closer to homes. He bumped into a car two weeks ago and was spotted swimming across lakes.

The farmers said he had to go, but taking a contract out on a bear who had suddenly turned into a celebrity, an animal whose likes hadn't been seen in Germany since the days when Beethoven's music was new, proved difficult.

A plan to lure Bruno into a big trap baited with meat didn't work. Neither did shooting him with a drug-tipped dart and dragging him far away. Hunting dogs called in from Finland became overheated while chasing Bruno and were returned home.

A suggestion that he be enticed with a female bear was discounted when it was noted that Bruno was too young and might be more enamored with beehives than with sex.

"Bear Threatens Bavaria," read the headline in the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung.

Bruno left clues: a broken branch, a knot of fur on a barbed wire fence. He was what people talked about over a beer. German wildlife experts, scientists and farmers hunkered over maps and charts.

Bruno was a link to a time generations ago when bears roamed the continent, before their territory was squeezed by ski resorts and expanding cities. Today, bears from Slovenia are being reintroduced into parts of Western Europe, including Austria and Northern Italy. But few have the aura of Bruno.

A "Hunt Bruno" game appeared on the Internet, and German news media reported that a Bruno teddy bear sold for $150. But the World Cup stole some of Bruno's hype, pushing him to the back pages of newspapers. Then, on Sunday, Bruno passed by a hiking lodge, and the Bavarian Environment Ministry issued a shoot-to-kill order.

"We knew the decision was very unpopular," said Anton Steixner, a local government official in Tirol, Austria, where Bruno had killed sheep. "To the fanatic animal protectors, I say, you should understand this bear has been killing because of his lust for killing and not because he was hungry. ... He was an eccentric, and he was a border-crosser."

A condolence blog appeared hours after Bruno's death. One person wrote: "In Alaska, they say, `The worst bears are the human bears.'"

Jeffrey Fleishman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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