Brooding Over Bruno's Brothers Bavaria Prepares for Return of Brown Bears

A Bavarian minister has an extensive new action plan in case an unexpected brown bear slips across the Alpine border. His colleagues in Munich think he's overreacting, since only one bear has been seen in the German wild in over a century and a half. But that bear was Bruno. Who ended badly.

Bruno's mom Jurka, seen here, recently gave birth to three male cubs. Will they march into Germany?

Bruno's mom Jurka, seen here, recently gave birth to three male cubs. Will they march into Germany?

It didn't take long for the news to spread: Jurka, mother of Bruno the Brown Bear ( RIP: 2004-2006) had given birth again -- and her three male cubs in the southern Tyrol region of Italy will soon be mature enough to make their own way in the world. Most Germans remember what happened the last time Jurka reproduced: Bashful young Bruno romped north through the Alps to wreak havoc among Bavarian sheep and pet guinea pigs.

The decision to shoot Bruno last summer -- a move this publication described as "cowardly" -- became a wildly unpopular cause celebre in Germany. For a time it seemed the man responsible for the decision, Bavaria's Environment Minister Werner Schnappauf, might have to resign. Meanwhile, as if to wallow in the indignity, Germans and Italians hve carried on a diplomatic row over who gets to stuff Bruno and display him in a museum.

A management plan for Bruno's brothers

Schnappauf survived his political storm, but he'd rather not repeat it with more of Jurka's offspring. So the environment minister spent the winter planning for worst-case scenarios.

In mid-April Schnappauf's team published a "management plan" with detailed steps for dealing with future visits from brown bears who belong to repopulation programs across the European Union.

So far the plan has found little resonance in the Bavarian government, where members of his own party, the conservative Christian Social Union, are telling him to, er, Schnapp out of it. According to a report in SPIEGEL this week, politicians in the state parliament are openly mocking Schnappauf and his proposal. One politician described it as "nonsense."

Schnappauf says he modeled his comprehensive 16-page plan on those in neighboring Austria and Switzerland. The difference, of course, is that Austria and other Alpine countries have brown bears. Bruno was the first wild bear to been seen in Germany since 1835.

For their part, Bavaria's left-wing Greens and Social Democrats feel the action plan doesn't go far enough. It would create no staff positions in the bear program, and the Greens say it doesn't address other important carnivores, like lynx and wolves.

'High Probabilty' of Bear Visits

The Environment Ministry's plan covers everything from coordinating task forces to calling in an Austrian rapid response force with experience in dealing with bears. There is a "high probability that individual bears from Italy or Austria will again find their way to Bavaria," the plan declares, although self-contained populations in Bavaria and neighboring Tyrol are unlikely in the near future.

Some bears, of course, live peacefully in forests and along the banks of mountain streams. Others hunt for dinner on farms and in villages. The new guide offers a classification system ranging from "not dangerous" to "very dangerous" -- and only those in the latter category would be removed or put down.

"As a rule," the plan advises ordinary hikers, "a bear will not attack, but only sniff at you and decide you're not a threat."

But that only goes for some bears. The plan also includes a "re-education" option -- the wilderness equivalent of reform school for highly intelligent animals, like Bruno, who show behavioral problems when they come near human beings.



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