"Crap, it's a bear!" the 12-year-old son of a German Green Party politician cried last Saturday as he strolled with his parents through the picturesque Alpine village of Scuol in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, where the family was on holiday. "The bear was standing in the middle of the road, only about 50 meters away," the boy's father, Gerd Hickman, told Swiss tabloid Blick.
The sighting was just one of many reported since the two-year-old mammal, who is purported to have wandered in from Italy, entered the country some days ago. And reports that the bear, dubbed M13 by the authorities, may be heading north have many in Germany playing close attention. While bear sightings aren't uncommon in Switzerland, in Germany they are decidedly rare and treated with particular gravitas.
Indeed, in 2006 authorities shot and killed Bruno, a bear who became a celebrity after spending several weeks wandering around the Alps of southern Germany. He barged his way into the headlines by killing several sheep and other livestock -- including a young girl's guinea pig -- and even napping outside a police station before finally being cornered.
Bruno's fate was ultimately sealed by his apparent lack of fear of humans, leading the Bavarian governor at the time, Edmund Stoiber, to dub him a "problem bear." Worryingly, M13 is exhibiting similar traits.
Karl Andersag, a Graubünden beekeeper, has had to install an electric fence around his hives after suffering two attacks on his honey harvest, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of his bees. "The bear will come again," he told Blick.
Another family traveling south of Scuol managed to capture a video of the brown bear as it rummaged through woodland just 20 meters away from their car. The animal appeared unperturbed by the presence of humans and made its way leisurely through the forest.
Mario Riatsch, who shot the film, told Swiss daily Le Matin that his mobile phone hasn't stopped ringing since and that he would think twice about sending videos to the media again. Still, his footage revealed that the bear, dubbed M13, had a yellow tag clamped to its right ear, indicating that it had at some point been registered.
Wanderlust Might Extend to Germany
Concerns that the animal might be heading for Germany come from a sighting reported on Wednesday in Nauders, Austria of a bear heading north. While it remains unclear whether it was M13 or not, German authorities are no doubt eager to avoid of the public outcry following the shooting of Bruno -- which occurred just as the world had its attention focused on Germany during that year's World Cup.
So far, the gender of M13 has not been determined. Male bears tend to travel widely in search of food and a mate while females prefer to live a more settled life. Urine and feces tests are currently underway to determine if multiple bears may be involved.
The perceived threat of a bear generally relates to how close it comes to the places where people live. In 2008, Swiss authorities shot a bear, known as JJ3, who was considered dangerous because he showed no fear of humans. One can only hope that M13 begins to shy away from the public gaze so that he does not meet the same fate.