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Italian bear killer under armed guard after death threats

Search continues for orphaned bear cubs.

A 56-year-old Italian man accused of killing a rare Marsican bear, popularly known in the central Abruzzo region as Amarena, has been placed under police protection due to death threats.

The man, identified by Italian media as Andrea Leombruni, told police that he shot the female bear after becoming "afraid" when the animal entered his property in San Benedetto dei Marsi on Thursday night.

The killing sparked outrage in Italy and since the news was first reported on Friday Leombruni has been barricaded in his family home under armed guard.

"I haven't slept or eaten for three days" - Leombruni told ANSA news agency on Sunday - "I have stopped living. I continually receive telephone calls and messages with death threats."

Currently under investigation, Leombruni risks between four months and two years in jail if convicted of killing Amarena, a beloved symbol of Abruzzo, whose two young cubs are now at serious risk on their own.

“You have to go through it to understand what I'm feeling now" – Leombruni told ANSA - "I was wrong; I understood it right after I fired the shot."

He says he has been warned that he will "meet the same fate as the bear" and that his family has also received threats, which he has reported to police, according to Il Messaggero newspaper.

Leombruni has received little sympathy in Italy, however, and he continues to receive a barrage of insults on social media.

Marsican bears are a critically endangered sub-species of the Eurasian brown bear and there are only about 60 of the animals left in existence.

Amarena and her cubs were often seen rambling around local villages, with the last video of the family together made in San Benedetto dei Marsi just a few days before the mother bear was shot dead.

Since then a major search has been underway to capture and save Amarena's two orphaned cubs, which are not yet fitted with radio collars, and protect them from predators.

The home of the Marsican bears is the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise (PNALM) whose head ranger Michela Mastrella told Corriere della Sera newspaper that park authorities are using a variety of methods to try and catch the little animals, so far with no success.

"We spotted them in the fields thanks to the use of night vision goggles and a drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera, but we were unable to capture them because the area is vast and the little ones move quickly," said Mastrella, adding that the search has been helped by reported sightings from local residents but hindered by people out looking with flash lights.

"The cubs returned several times to the place where the traces of their mother's blood remained", she said.

Authorities say that so far the two cubs appear to have been able to find food and, crucially, have stayed together.

The park's director Luciano Sammarone welcomed the decision by the mayor of San Benedetto dei Marsi to limit access to the town where the search is centred, and has also appealed to drivers to slow down "because the greatest risk is that the cubs are run over on the road."

Meanwhile a protest by animal rights activists, furious over the killing of Amarena, scheduled for Sunday 3 September in San Benedetto dei Marsi was called off to avoid impeding the search for the cubs.

For official updates on the situation and the ongoing search see the PNALM website.

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