Bavaria's Bear Representative on Bruno: "In Bavaria, We Welcome Bears"

Since his discovery in Germany near the Austrian border, Bruno has launched a very vocal national debate about the reintroduction of the brown bear in the European Alps. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Bavaria's official representative for bear-related issues in the state Environment Ministry, biologist Manfred Wölfl, discusses Bruno and the brown bear's return to Germany.

Bavarian Bear Respresentative Manfred Wölfl shows on the map the area where Bruno was seen last.
DDP

Bavarian Bear Respresentative Manfred Wölfl shows on the map the area where Bruno was seen last.

SPIEGEL: What are the chances of capturing Bruno alive?

Wölfl: Unfortunately, not very good. We have to try and make the most of the few chances we have. We will have to be successful with one of the next attempts -- this bear is very smart. Once he realizes that the dogs that are chasing him actually represent a human threat, he won't let them slow him down -- he will just keep running.

SPIEGEL: How can a bear be smart enough to outwit the trappers, Karelian bear-hunting dogs, government officials and media who have been on his trail for weeks?

Wölfl: I don't think he's trying to hoodwink us deliberately. He's not that shrewd. Until Wednesday, he probably had no idea that the dogs were following him. During the past few weeks, he's been able to continue with his behavior unabated. Biologists would say that natural selection has been good to him -- and he has suffered no negative consequences as a result of his behavior up until now.

SPIEGEL: Is there any threat that he might attack humans?

Wölfl: No, probably not. But if he approaches populated areas, accidents could happen. If he goes into a barn and the bear wants to flee, he could trample a farmer -- not because he wanted to kill but out of self-defense.

SPIEGEL: Why not just let Bruno roam freely in the Alps?

Wölfl: This bear has learned that the proximity of people also means the presence of food. He has become very strongly conditioned to this and none of his past experiences have given him any reason to fear that his behaviour might lead to negative consequences.

SPIEGEL: Is Bruno a unique instance as a "problem bear," or does Bavaria intend to prevent all bears from settling in the state?

Wölfl: The habitat in the Alps is suitable for bears. It's the same in Austria and the Italian Apennines Mountains. There, people spend their vacations without knowing that they are close to bears. It works.

SPIEGEL: So Bavaria welcomes bears?

Wölfl: Yes, we want bears to spread in Bavaria. But we want to be clear about one thing: Human safety is our first priority when it comes to managing wild animals. Bears, unfortunately, are animals that can quickly pose a threat to this safety. Some bears behave extremely well, but others are more susceptible to the kind of behavior we've seen with Bruno.

SPIEGEL: Bruno is very susceptible.

Wölfl: It's really too bad that the first bear to come to Bavaria in 170 years has his temperament. But why should that prevent us from managing (wildlife) according to international standards? Here in Bavaria we welcome the immigration of bears. Maybe 20, 50 or 100 years from now we will have our own bear couple in the mountains -- and, accordingly, our own Bavarian offspring.

SPIEGEL: How do you intend to increase public acceptance of bears in Germany? In France, for example, angry farmers have been known to lay poisoned honey traps or ones laced with glass shards in areas of the Pyrenees mountains where new bear populations have been introduced.

Wölfl: We have to treat our concerns for the animals and people equally. And we have to take citizens' concerns seriously. We do take great pains to make sure that happens. After all, bear repopulation programs will not work without public acceptance; we have to take all sides into account.

SPIEGEL: Could the Austrian bear settlement program be a role model for Germany?

Wölfl: We are thinking about introducing this program together with Austrian states Vorarlberg and Tyrol, so that we would have someone to coordinate the Bavarian side in a crisis.

SPIEGEL: How should one behave when coming across a bear?

Wölfl: Talk to him calmly and retreat slowly. The bear will likely disappear.

Interview conducted by Sebastian Fischer.

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