In Italy, a man foraging for mushrooms was attacked when he happened upon a mother bear and her cubs. Part of a reintroduction and conservation program in Italy’s northern Dolomites, the bear, named Daniza, was ordered to be captured and possibly killed. This has sparked social media outrage, prompting those on twitter to hashtag #iostocondanzia (I’m with Danzia).
The outrage stems from a revelation that when mauling victim Daniele Maturi happened upon the bear, he did not immediately leave, but rather hid behind a tree to watch him. It is said the bear only charged when it spotted him watching from behind a tree (like a predator would do, thus provoking the bear).
One Italian columnist, Anna Lebedeva, shared her opinion on the situation, “I grew up in Siberia, the land of brown bears, and even as a child I knew that you do not mess with those giants. There it would never occur to a person who is accustomed to sharing the woods with bears to hide behind a tree and watch a female with two cubs from a distance of 30 metres.”
Environmentalists and conversationalists are concerned over the fact that Danzia is still nursing her cubs.
However, not all are of that opinion. The wounded forager described the bear as crazy, telling a local news network, “She chased me. She took me with one paw on my back; she made a hole in my back. I was on the ground and then she jumped on top of me…It only needs to happen once. With me it went OK. If it had been a woman or someone else … I don’t know if it would have been OK because it’s really brutal.”
Some who live in the Dolomite mountain range have lost livestock to bears, and find their reintroduction has been mismanaged. Others advocate that once a wild animal turns and attacks a human, it must be killed.
These ideas are predicated on the assumption that:
1. An animal killing or wounding a person instigates revenge attacks from humans, wiping populations out further rather than the one creature responsible and
2. Animals that get a taste for attacking humans tend to do so multiple times.
However, these points have been hotly contested by environmentalists. They are quick to point out that needless culling of say, stingrays, after the death of Steven Irwin is a human fault that animals should not be held responsible or killed for. Furthermore, the fact that animals ‘acquire’ a taste for human flesh or blood is not always the case. This is especially true when we talk about animals that are protecting their offspring, and maul a human as a warning to stay away rather than attempt to eat it.
In cases of man-eating predators, such as lions and tigers, it is often said that they only go after humans during times of food scarcity and unnatural encroachment. Ironically enough, this is often brought about by humans themselves through illegal hunting and deforestation. One notable example of this being in India, where encroachment on tiger domains has caused multiple run-ins between wildlife and humans.
Although tigers and wolves are especially prone to ‘acquiring’ a taste for humans, which is attributable to the content of salt in our blood, these cases tend to be extremely rare.
Although in Italy, the officials are certain of the bear responsible, in other cases it can be shown that trying to track and kill bears that attack humans is a very imperfect science.
In Florida of this year, six bears were killed after one woman was mauled. The bears were killed on the premise that they ‘displayed no fear of humans.’ However, despite killing half a dozen bears, authorities were still not convinced they had brought down the particular bear that mauled the woman.
Animal care advocates say that rather than trying to kill or capture an animal accused of mauling or killing a human, each case ought to be examined for the probability of reoccurrence. For instance, the mama bear and cubs likely did not acquire a taste for human flesh after an incomplete mauling. So in cases like those, many advocate that animals such as these be relocated further away from areas populated by humans.
Nature belongs to everybody but it is not a zoo, nor is it without risks. The very fact that we are wandering deeper into the wilderness than ever before, without considering those hazards shows a very particular kind of hubris. Nothing, not one species, lives side by side in the wild without facing danger. So before we go on killing rampages or separate mother bears from cubs, let’s use these magnificent, evolved brains of ours to come up with solutions that focus on conservation, rather than killing.