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SOB – Abruzzo’s Stark Bear Necessity

by Sam Dunham
Save our Bears

Save our Bears“Save our !”

The Marsican bears endemic to Italy’s region are in dire need of some individual champions to help persuade their cohabitating human neighbours living around the park that altruistic bare necessity living is required if they are to fend off their threatened extinction.

A scientific study reported that just 40-42 of Abruzzo’s endemic bears are left within the park at the beginning of Spring 2011, although that was before the two that were recently found killed.  An astonishing 98 bears have been found killed by humans since 1970 either by poaching, poisoning, or road accidents.  These statistics compiled by Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise  are shocking considering Abruzzo’s bears are an internationally recognised endangered species housed within ‘Europe’.    We’re not talking Rhinos or big game  in South Africa or Kenya  here, where the battle is with foreign-backed smugglers armed with helicopters and AK47s ; rather their killings lay with locals and their short-term perception of what a bear is worth amidst layers of Italian bureaucracy, which is helping their slow choke to death.

Abruzzo's Bear LandThere has been many socio-economic changes in this part of south west Abruzzo and for many an enjoyable increase in wealth; less small-holdings, less farmers,  a reduced numbers of  sheep and goats taken up into the higher pastures and the introduction of new ski resorts has all meant a loss of habitat and natural foraging for these omnivore bears  who now trundle further down the and hillsides, looking for food that includes raiding chicken coops and praying on smaller flocks and herds.  Although farmers located within the National Park receive a guarantee of being compensated for the loss of their animal within 45 days, for example receiving €1600 per sheep, those who are on the periphery can wait up to a year to be compensated and although killing a protected animal can if discovered carry a short 3 months jail sentence  with fines it is not off- putting enough to stop locals who believe bears are killing their own direct revenue stream which is difficult to challenge in these tough times.

The new Life Arctos Project is a 4-year project partially backed by €5 million EU funding and headed by the Cinzia Sulli who is responsible for Scientific Services at the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise which will work to conserve Italy’s brown bears in both and the Alps.  To dissuade the bears from foraging in urban settlements, it is intended to install electric fences around beehives and vegetable gardens in addition to planting fruit-bearing trees in hills to provide further food upland.

“And don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true”

This will run alongside an education campaign that will target locals through flyers and leaflets.  I have to be honest here; what makes pragmatic Abruzzesi farmers I know tick is money and if a continued educational campaign over the last 30 years has not resulted in a decrease in bear killings but rather a sustained amount of killings I would be surprised if this works?

We asked Cinzia about marketing, for example on the life-arctos website which we found pretty hard going and overly academic in tone, about a complimentary campaign website, but nothing like this is sadly planned to make it more understandable to your average Joe public to help them get interested in helping.

We had met a local business owner in Pescasseroli who had mentioned a lack of English or American tourists to the area, which does highlight a lack of awareness of the rich bio-diversity that the area holds as well as gastronomy and literature.  There are many Italian, German and Dutch visitors that already come to this part of Abruzzo, perhaps the slightly lazier English speakers get put off by lack of readily available information on those who campaign on behalf of the bears, the WWF – click on their Union Jack flag and Page in Not Found, go onto the National Park’s website and try clicking on the ‘English Marsican Brown Bear’ in the navigation and nothing loads.  For those English-speaking people looking for quick info and easily put off by such technical problems these things don’t help attract them to the area where their money and demands will trickle down to small business holders and in effect farmers, to convert short-term thinking into long-term altruism.

Run a search in Google  on “hike Abruzzo bear” in English for those that may have read something and nothing appears from the National Park or the WWF!!  Perhaps an easy and cost-effective way for these organisations to optimise the numbers visiting the area is to grow their English language pages and get found and out there.    The same on Facebook type in ‘Abruzzo bears’ and nothing comes up within it for a direct page about them, or how to help ensure their survival.  I’d readily offer to volunteer my help if anyone from the WWF or National Park reads this!

We asked about B&B and hotel campaigns, a local flyer was planned with info about the park but nothing beyond the town of Pescasseroli where the National Park is based.  We live in northern Teramo and Pescasseroli is a 2 hour drive from us and if we’re quite happy driving to the area for the day I’m sure most other holidaymakers would do the same with the attraction if they knew there was a possibility to see or just walk in their paw-prints so to speak.  We had no idea about central Italy’s bears until moving here, so perhaps a campaign could be formulated by those English speaking B&B villa owners to promote the bears and an excursion in area, for those interested?  I don’t own a holiday establishment so it would be great to get feedback on this from owners as to whether such an idea is viable…?

I know many people would love to give friends, colleagues and others (for example Rotarians), a presentation on the bears to help grow awareness, and asked if such a PowerPoint or presentation pack was available.  At the moment this is only available in Italian so if anyone out there’s a red-hot translator and would like to volunteer to translate this (my Italian is sadly not good enough) this would be welcomed by the National Park!

In short the Abruzzo bears need big help with an English marketing campaign to help drive tourists and increase awareness.  Tourists bring money and this is what counts to farmers, they aren’t the most soft-hearted individuals – if we can prove they do this to a greater extent perhaps we can go a way to stopping the Marsican bears’ extermination by locals?

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Chris Townend

Hi Sammy, I came across your article that I was very interested to read about. I am the owner of a new company based in the UK running bird and mammal watching holidays all over the world. One of my trips is a short break in Abruzzo NP looking for bears and I have just returned from a successful trip there. However, one of the key elements to my company is giving donations back to conservation projects relevant to the holiday. In this case I was hoping to give a donation to the Life Arctos Project, but I am having… Read more »


Chris let me send a few emails to see who a few friends recommend will get back to you shortly!


Hi Sammy, have you heard anymore about this project? Its been nearly a year now and nothing new seems to have appeared on the Project Arctos website?


Hi Kev – Have heard nothing I am afraid and no matter how many times I tried emailing as a follow up to the article and to find out what's happening I've received nothing! Tragic…

Jacqui Dixon

Echo Kevin's thoughts here, a beautifully written report on such a critical subject. We're setting up a campsite here on the north eastern slopes of the Majella aimed at hikers, cyclists and climbers, just the sort of people to appreciate, and want to protect, the rich and diverse habitat of the Abruzzo wilderness. As the tracks in the snow showed in January, we do also have bear in these parts too. Although our Italian is slow in coming (despite studying hard!), anything we can do to help, just let me know


Sammy A big thank you for putting this article together – it is beautifully written and once again highlights the lack of understanding of how important these creatures are to the tourism industry of Abruzzo. If that Italian presentation is readily available I would like to offer it to an Anglo Italian society which I am a member of in England. I would offer it as a project for the language students and the Italian teachers. I think this would be a great project. Once translated I do have some ideas which I will run by you at some point.… Read more »


Hi Kev – That is one red hot document for offers of translations it sounds great your idea. I’ve emailed the NP to try and get a copy will let you know when I hear back.

All about Abruzzo in a slow travel & food blog
All about Abruzzo in a slow travel & food blog