Wild Bear Wears Out His Welcome in Germany

The race is on to catch a brown bear wandering around Bavaria in southern Germany after the animal was seen strolling into the lakeside resort of Kochel am See.

It's been almost a month since the bear -- dubbed Bruno by German newspapers -- first ambled into Germany, becoming the first wild bear sighted in the country since 1835.

Initially part of a program in northern Italy to reintroduce wild bears high up in the Alps, Bruno has since become an unwelcome visitor in mountainous southern Germany and Austria.

The 220-pound bear became an instant celebrity after first being sighted in Bavaria four weeks ago. People were initially thrilled to have the cute 2-year-old bear in their neighborhoods, until Bruno started acting, well, like a wild animal -- killing sheep and goats, as well as many rabbits and chickens.

Unlike wild bears elsewhere in Europe, known for their shyness, Bruno has apparently shown a more aggressive side, wandering around close to people, spotted frequently by hikers in the area. He was even seen one evening last week, sitting in front of the police station of a small Bavarian town -- instead of turning himself in, he headed off into the woods.

He could even hold the title of Super Bear because a collision with a car left the vehicle damaged but no blood found in the area, suggesting that Bruno had survived the crash and was not seriously injured.

Authorities and civilians alike are concerned and worried that the bear has begun looking for food close to where people live. In addition to killing and eating smaller animals, Bruno has also turned over beehives to steal honey.

"This is not an average bear. This bear must quickly be taken out of the wild. He's a potential risk to people living in the area," said Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber on German television. At first, local authorities declared him a "problem bear" and gave hunters permission to shoot and kill the unwelcome carnivore.

Authorities eventually revoked that order after it prompted an outcry from animal rights activists. Instead, they brought in a half dozen specially trained Finnish tracking dogs to help search for Bruno.

"If we manage to catch him, we'll release him in a nature reserve near Munich, or better even, we'll return him to northern Italy, where he was born," said Manfred Woelfel, the German official at the Bavarian Environment Ministry.

"I think he's just out there looking for a companion, and that's normal," said Manfred Fleischer, president of the Bavarian Animal Protection Federation. "He was born in the wilderness, and he should stay there."

Fleischer's group has offered to pay to ship Bruno back to Italy and tag him with a radio transmitter to allow rangers to monitor his moves.

The World Wildlife Fund also joined the search-and-capture campaign, paying $4,000 for a custom-built bear trap flown in from Montana and sending volunteers to the region to support the local search team.

"The search for the bear is becoming very costly," said World Wildlife Fund spokesman Jorn Ehlers, "but we have been lucky in receiving special donations for this campaign." Ehlers says the fund will support the search for Bruno "for as long as it takes."

People living in the area are hoping the search mission will be completed successfully sooner rather than later -- everyone would like to avoid any incidents where Bruno might turn his hungry appetite from small animals to humans.