Bruno Watch "Problem Bear" Strikes Again

As the Austrian chancellor mocks Germany's "Problem bear," Bruno appears to have left another helpless victim in the Alps. In recent weeks, he has killed domesticated animals as he meandered along the border region between Germany, Austria and Italy. But officials fear Bruno could be a danger to humans in the area.  

He's killed flocks of sheep and he's killed bunnies. Most of the time he hasn't even bothered to eat them. "Bruno," known officially as "JJ1" the brown bear has left a trail of destruction behind him as he roams the alpine border region between Germany and Austria. On Sunday, officials found what they believe is his latest victim: the headless body of a rabbit about 70 kilometers west of Innsbruck.

For several weeks now, the brown bear -- released as part of a major initiative to reintroduce the European brown bear to its native habitat -- has made headlines as he makes his rounds in the alpine border region between Germany, Austria and Italy. And the latest development in Europe's bear hunt came just hours after Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel openly commented on Germany's "problem bear."

"We have a bear settlement program, which can help bear families become nationals," Schüssel told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "They do cause damage now and then and they even attack sheep occasionally. But then we just replace (the sheep) and nobody gets worked up. Otherwise, all I have to say is this: If Europe has nothing else to worry about other than Bruno the bear, then it must be a happy place."

Bruno, dubbed "Problem Bear" by Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber, has been causing unrest in Germany since May. When he first crossed the border from Austria into Germany in late May, Bruno was initially welcomed as the first wild bear sighted there in 170 years. But he was declared ursus non grata within days when he began attacking animals and, occasionally, overturning farmers' beehives.

Fed up by the bear's unacceptable behavior, Bavarian authorities feared Bruno was getting too dangerous to roam free in the wild and ordered him shot dead if necessary. But last week, Bavarian Environment Minister Werner Schnappauf revoked his order to shoot Bruno and hired a team of Finnish bear hunting experts with Karelian bear dogs to find the ursine terror in a non-lethal hunt that began on Monday.

Authorities have failed to find Bruno in at least two dozen hunting excursions since mid-May. But the €25,000 Finnish team has 14 days to find the evasive bear before Bavarian authorities start to reevaluate the situation. Experts have pledged to do everything they can to avoid killing Bruno.

Bavarian authorities also found a home for the bear in a wildlife reserve, if he is successfully caught. "We've set aside a three hectare area for him. It might not be as good as the mountains, but he can have a good life there," said Roland Eichhorn, a spokesman for the Bavarian Environment Ministry.

Bruno has remained relatively under cover the last few days. It was not until the decapitated rabbit was found that authorities got some idea where he might be hiding.

If the Finns and their dogs fail, Bavarian authorities there's still another option left. Jack, an American tomcat based in New Jersey. According to Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper, Jack recently chased a brown bear up a treat in his backyard. If Jack is called to duty, Bavaria might be able to breathe a deep sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, as Bavarian authorities play the game of cat and mouse with Bruno, another animal is on the run. In the Ore Mountains, authorities are searching for a lion. The animal was seen Saturday in Pfaffroda on a pasture by several residents, according to the German news agency  DPA. So far, however, authorities have failed to find any trace of the lion.

Officials questioned nearby zoos and animal parks about missing animals, but nothing was discovered. Authorities have warned all residents about the lion. "Hopefully no illegal animal broke out," said Hermann Will, director of a nearby animal park in the eastern city of Chemnitz. "These animals belong in South America."



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