Brown bear run over in Abruzzo

An Apennine brown bear (Orso Marsicano or Ursus arctos marsicanus) was run over and killed in a road accident at the end of April on the motorway between Rome and Aquila in Abruzzo. The bear, a young male weighing about 90 kilos, was on the autostrada close to Aquila when it was hit early in the morning. The car was badly damaged but the driver was not hurt.

Experts think that the bear may have wandered away from its normal habitat looking for a mate after its winter hibernation or that it was staking out its territory.

It is estimated that there are less than 50 of these brown bears living in the national park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, half the number there were in 1980. 10 females were counted in 2010 compared with about 14 in 2007. The average size of each family is estimated to be two cubs but the cub mortality rate is about 25 per cent. The national park is now the only habitat of the bears, which are unique to Italy.

There are various threats to the bears such as intensive cattle grazing, deforestation, land fragmentation for residential and infrastructure development, traffic and poison put out to kill other animals.

Three bears died of poisoning in 2008 and in 2011 a female was killed in a road accident close to Pescasseroli.

One of the protective measures now under consideration is to survey the road network in the national park. Suggestions include lowering the speed of vehicles, installing devices to discourage animals from crossing roads and building underpasses. One road now being surveyed by the organisation Salviamo l’Orso is the S83 between Gioa di Marsi and Goia Vecchio.

Other projects include planting fruit trees and fencing off apiaries and vegetables plots that attract bears and make them unpopular with humans.

The Marsican brown bear is the largest terrestrial animal in the wild in Italy and is one of the most threatened subspecies of brown bear.

The Life Arctos project set up by the European Union in 2010 has provided €5 million in funding until 2014 for management of the Apennine brown bear and eight cubs were sighted in summer 2012 compared with only three in 2011.