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Italy's race to save missing cubs after mother bear Amarena shot dead

Outrage in Italy after rare bear killed.

Italian park rangers on Friday night spotted the two Marsican bear cubs missing after the animals' mother, popularly known as Amarena, was shot dead in the central Abruzzo region the night before.

The cubs were located hiding in undergrowth not far from the scene of the killing, in San Benedetto dei Marsi, waiting in vain for their mother to return.

However attempts to capture the bears and bring them to safety were unsuccessful and the frightened animals ran off, according to Italian news reports.

"The cubs are not able to survive on their own, stray dogs would be enough to kill them", WWF Italia president Luciano Di Tizio said in a statement on Friday, adding that using tranquilisers and traps to catch them was too risky. "In short, you risk that the dead bears become three", Di Tizio said.

The cubs have been in hiding since their mother was killed by a local man who told police he was "afraid" after the female bear entered his property, claiming that he shot the animal in an "impulsive, instinctive act".

Aged just a few months old, the cubs had initially sought refuge by climbing a tree near where their mother lay dying, however they disappeared when authorities arrived at the scene.

The graphic image of Amarena released on Friday night by the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise.

 

Assisted by drones, dozens of park rangers and police officers on Saturday continued to search for the little animals which are not yet fitted with radio collars. 

The killing of the Marsican bear, a critically endangered sub-species of the Eurasian brown bear, has provoked outrage in Italy, particularly in Abruzzo where Amarena and her cubs were often seen rambling around local villages.

The man accused of shooting Amarena is a 56-year-old hunter and pork-butcher, according to Italian news reports.

Named for her fondness of cherries, Amarena was a "confident but completely peaceful" creature, according to WWF Italia, and a beloved symbol of Abruzzo.

Amarena gave birth to several litters during her roughly nine-year life: the two missing cubs born earlier this year and four cubs born in 2020, including the biscuit-loving Juan Carrito killed after being hit by a car in January.

The National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise (PNALM) is a vast protected area home to the last remaining Marsican bears whose population numbers between 50 and 60.

Bear cubs normally stay with their mothers until they are about a year and a half old, after which they are old enough to take care of themselves.

Park authorities will now have to decide how to take care of the young animals without their mother. But first they face the difficult task of catching the cubs, before it is too late.

Photo Valerio Minato

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