My Neighbour is a Bear

The European Nature Trust supports the most effective conservation projects across Europe and Belize.Through their work, they help people reconnect with the natural systems on which we depend.

 Eight bear species live across the planet’sdiverse ecosystems. From our earliest beginnings, they have mystified and enchanted us as a symbol of the untamed wild. Yet, very few are aware that brown bears are endemic to the Apennine Mountains of Italy. Fewer still know how much they need our help.

Italy’s Marsican brown bear is one of the rarest and most endangered bears in the world. A cousin of North America’s grizzly, it is a unique subspecies with a critically endangered population of about 60 remaining individuals. Once widespread throughout the Central Apennines, the Marsican brown bear is today concentrated inside the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. Now, the bears’ future depends on the population’s ability to expand beyond the confines of the Park.

Salviamo l’Orso (SLO) is a local volunteer-led NGO co-ordinating actions to conserve the Marsican brown bear. In collaboration with Rewilding Apennines, SLO is working to encourage bears to safely disperse beyond the core habitat area of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. The European Nature Trust is a long standing supporter of this work, funding conservation, while catalysing broader national and international support. The collaboration has identified some of the most important ‘wildlife corridors’ that are key areas to connect the protected areas of the Central Apennines, including the Sirente Velino Regional Park, the Majella National Park, and the Ernici Simburini Regional Park. Today, their efforts focus on a 100,000 hectare core rewilding area. 

  • Within the corridor areas, SLO are removing obstacles to bear movement, such as barbed wire, and are combating poaching activities across the ecosystem.

  • Coexistence is a primary focus; SLO are working with local communities as part of the EU’s LIFE programme to develop ‘Bear Smart Communities’, provisioned with bear-proof waste bins and bear-proof fencing to protect small-scale agriculture.

  • The team are planting fruit trees to improve food densities in strategic corridor locations to encourage the dispersal of bears, with a key focus on breeding females.

  • Corridors are constantly monitored by volunteers and passionate conservationists through long distance wildlife observation and identification of animal tracks and signs.

  • Local dogs – which could introduce new diseases to the fragile bear population – are being vaccinated against emerging diseases.

In many regions close to bear habitat areas, local people have embraced the bear as part of Italy’s natural heritage. Travelers from all over the world come to Italy to see wildlife, and the Marsican brown bear has proven to be the best ambassador of conservation. Yet negative perceptions of the bear still persist, and the species continues to face persecution. Through conservation and coexistence, we can secure a future for the Marsican brown bear; for the habitat and wild areas the species needs; and all the biodiversity found within. The Marsican brown bear is a symbol of wild Italy, and their future depends on us.