The Italian Almanac
Extinction of the Vegetarian Bear
The nearly extinct Marsican brown bear has failed to increase its numbers despite legal protection and diminished pressure from poachers. The latest census found just 50 Marsican bears still exist in the wild, and are largely confined to the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise. The number has not budged since a 2008 census, though the bears have managed to hang on for decades despite near-extinction levels. A 1969 census counted 60 bears.
"We're talking about a number that is clearly below the threshold of survival," explained the president of the park, Giuseppe Rossi. "We are clearly very worried for the future of these specimens". Rossi reported violent deaths by poaching were reduced by a third. Rossi credited energetic local vigilance for the gains, but said more must be done on behalf of the bears. He announced a new 3.6 million euro program to strengthen conservation efforts involving five Italian regions, environmental associations and several nature reserves.
Fearsome-looking brown bears were perceived for centuries as a menace to people and their animals, and thus were fair game for hunters. Poachers and the encroaching presence of people in their habitat threaten them with violent death or hunger.
The Marsican bear, which once roamed regions from southern to central Italy, is nearly vegetarian, with 90% of its diet coming from plants. They also eat small vertebrates and invertebrates and only sporadically kill other large animals, preferring to scavenge carcasses. Their calorie-poor diet requires them to eat vast quantities of food, as they weigh 90 to 150 kilograms, food they must somehow gather in the wooded mountains remaining.