Marina Valentini is still puzzled as she examines the crime scene, showing the floor of her bakery in Roccaraso, a small mountain town and ski resort in Italy’s Abruzzo region, where crumbs from her freshly baked cookies were scattered.
“My husband had switched to the bakery,” she said. “I was at home, waiting for him for dinner, when he called me and said, ‘Marina, there’s a bear in the bakery.’ My first response was, ‘As- you drunk?’ »
Valentini’s husband was very sober. It was around 9 p.m. at the end of November when a rare brown bear, affectionately nicknamed Juan Carrito, walked up the main street of the city and crossed the terrace of the Dolci Momenti (Sweet Moments) bakery, before entering a side alley, smashing a small window with his claws and climbing onto a ledge in the kitchen, where he scoffed at a batch of cookies.
“He must have felt them floating down the street,” Valentini said. “I had baked so many, some were on the table, some were in the oven…the doors were opened slightly and he managed to get all the trays out and eat the cookies.”
It wasn’t the first time Carrito had brazenly ventured into Roccaraso. The two-year-old Marsican – a critically endangered subspecies of brown bear living in the Apennine mountains that straddle the regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise – was practically a resident, as well as an attraction lighthouse for tourists, until its recent controversial capture. . He would often spend the night, sleeping among the pine trees at the entrance to the town of around 1,500 people, before heading out in search of food, rummaging through trash cans and eating leftover pizza and sandwiches.
On one occasion he was spotted drinking from a fountain and, as skiers flocked to the town this winter, Carrito grew increasingly daring, once standing on his hind legs while curious visitors took pictures. Valentini said the bear often hung out outside the bakery, but he took the cookie with the burglary.
Days after the break-in, rangers tranquilized the bear and airlifted it to a remote wilderness area in Majella National Park. That, however, didn’t stop him from walking away – Carrito, who is fitted with a radio collar, was soon back in Roccaraso, where he was filmed in the snow ignoring a dog biting and barking around him.
It was his growing, if unusual, affinity for dogs that led rangers to take more drastic action, and in early March Carrito was lured by apples into a “tube trap” – a device commonly used to capture the bears – tranquilized and taken to an animal reserve 20 km away in Palena, where he is watched while preparing to return to the wild.
His capture pitted residents of Roccaraso – some saying he should be let loose – against authorities, who said it was necessary to remove him to prevent him from causing harm and for his own well-being. .
“Bears are often seen in inhabited areas but Carrito was becoming problematic, it was completely linked to the urban life of the city,” said Luciano Di Martino, biologist and director of the Majella National Park. “We saw him eating from garbage cans, also eating plastic. His stay in Palena will be temporary as we try to adapt him to his natural environment.
The population of Marsican bears in the area has declined to around 65 over the past two decades, which is thought to be the result of illegal hunting or animals being hit by vehicles. Some bears have died after unwittingly ingesting poison dropped by truffle hunters intended for their rivals’ dogs.
The bears are not known to be aggressive, but authorities exercise caution. “They have long claws and bigger teeth than a wolf’s,” said Antonio Antonucci, a wildlife biologist at Majella National Park.
Bears that gravitate to cities tend to be female bears with cubs or young bears, although experts have struggled to explain their motivations, as there is an abundance of nutritious food in their natural environment. One explanation for Carrito’s sociability is his upbringing: he was one of four cubs born to a bear named Amarena. The rarity of the event was such – on average, Marsican females give birth to between one and three cubs – that the family attracted a lot of attention. One of the first villages where Amarena and her cubs appeared was Carrito, hence the nickname.
“Amarena became a phenomenon and was confident,” Antonucci said. “She raised them near a town, and so Carrito practically grew up among people, but it wasn’t good for him.”
Human contact is excluded in the Palena enclosure, although Carrito is accompanied by three other bears, including a female rescued after 20 years in a cement cage as a Mafia-run tourist attraction. Food – a variety of fruit or deer meat – is given to him through a tube.
“He can’t get close to other bears but he can see and smell them – the idea is for Carrito to get to know his own kind rather than dogs, and adapt to his natural food “, said Antonucci.
The bear’s stay in Palena is expected to last a few more weeks before it is returned to the wild, although Antonucci doubts it will stay there.
Back in Roccaraso, Valentini is ready: the window through which Carrito entered the bakery is now fitted with bars. “It was a disaster at the time, we had to throw everything away and disinfect everything,” she said. “Now I have to deal with the crazy publicity: tourists come in and ask, ‘these are the cookies the bear ate’?”