Italy’s environment minister and animal rights advocates voiced anger and dismay over the “unjustifiable” killing of the endangered bear in the mountainous Abruzzo region on Friday.
Local residents, including families with small children, had often stopped to watch the bear and her cubs during the animal family’s frequent evening excursions through streets near the park.
The National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise described the slain animal, nicknamed Amarena — or Black Cherry in Italian — as one of its most prolific brown bears.
Residents coined the name Amarena because cherries and black cherries were among the bear’s favorite foods, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The man who shot the bear with a rifle on Thursday night in the town of San Benedetto dei Marsi told police the animal was on his property and he felt in danger, the Italian news agency ANSA said.
Prosecutors were looking into a possible charge of animal killing, and police took the rifle, which was legally owned by the 56-year-old man, as part of their investigation, the LaPresse news agency said.
The marsican brown bear, endemic to central Italy, is considered at an elevated risk of extinction. The park says about 60 bears live within the park or in its surrounding areas.
In a post on Facebook, the park said vets tried to save Amarena but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
“There is no reason to justify the incident since Amarena, despite causing damage to agricultural and zootechnical activities, always and in any case compensated by the Park even outside the borders of the Contigua Area, had never created any kind of problem for humans,” it added in the post.
The head of World Wildlife Fund’s Italy office, Luciano Di Tizio, called the bear’s slaying a “very grave, unjustifiable crime of nature” and the result of a “constant campaign against wildlife.”
“A self-assured, but completely peaceful bear, Amarena was part of the collective imagination and was the subject of pride in a land that has, in the bear, a symbol” of local nature, Mr Di Tizio said.
Drones were being used in the search for the cubs, LaPresse said.
Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto said: “The killing of a marsican female bear is a grave episode, on which it’s dutiful to shed light as quickly as possible.
“Our commitment is aimed also at the protection of the bear’s cubs, doing everything possible so that they can remain free,” he said in a statement.
The motherless cubs aren’t yet self-sufficient and thus are at high risk, triggering the search for them in the parklands, he added.
The theme of bear versus humans has taken on political connotations in Italy and landed in the courts.
Earlier this year, an administrative court’s ruling spared, for now, the life of a brown bear that fatally attacked a runner on a mountain trail in Italy’s Alpine region.
Local political authorities had issued an order to have the 17-year-old female bear, known as Jj4, euthanised.
A court hearing on the bear’s fate is expected in December. Animal rights groups have challenged the order to put down the bear.
The brown marsican bear which was killed on Thursday is a subspecies that is genetically different from alpine bears.
Italian state TV said Friday that Amarena was the mother of another one of the park’s bears that met a violent end. That bear, which was fatally struck by a car earlier this year, earned national fame when it broke into a bakery and devoured cookies.