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2006-05-30 14:46CRI Online

Germany: Hunt Is On for Roaming Austrian Bear

He is wanted in Germany on charges of breaking into a chicken coop, killing sheep and -- surprise -- stealing honey.

On top of that, he's an auslander.

Blurry mug shots of his dark face plaster towns in southern Bavaria.

The culprit, a young brown bear from Austria probably in search of a mate, is the subject of a rare cultural tiff between the two German-speaking neighbors. For several days, newspapers in Bavaria and Austria's westernmost province have been at war over the bear some have named Bruno and others Petzi, after one in a children's book series.

Bavarian authorities have given farmers, who are irate about the pillaging of their sheep, permission to shoot the bear on sight. Austrians were horrified, especially those in the far western province of Vorarlberg, from where the miscreant is believed to have crossed the border.

"Bavarians Want to Shoot Our Vorarlbaer" blared the headline in the Neu Vorarlberger Tageszeitung, punning on the province's name to show they had adopted the bear as their own, even though he probably spent no more than a week in the province. Experts believe he lopes more than 12 miles a day and started his journey in Italy's Trentino Alps.

Emotions aside, the dispute is over whether the bear must be shot to stop him from harming humans, or could instead be relocated. While some Austrians support shooting the bear, most are uncomfortable with the idea.

The two countries appear to be making increasingly wild assertions. Some Austrians are claiming the bear is under the protection of Pope Benedict XIV, who, they claim, recently has added a bear to his crest. Germans contend the bear is "out of control."

Bavarian Environment Minister Werner Schnappauf initially declared that the bear was welcome in the province but has changed his mind after consulting experts.

In the mid-19th century, voracious hunting by the nobility and an effort to protect livestock wiped out bear populations in both countries. The last bear was killed in Austria in 1842, and it was celebrated by townspeople who felt "relieved of a plague," according to Austrian World Wildlife Fund researchers.

Until recently, bears survived in Europe almost exclusively in the Balkans, the Carpathian mountains, Russia and Finland. But Austria has made considerable efforts starting about 15 years ago to bring back its bear population.

A cultural meltdown appears to have been averted for now. For whatever reason, the bear has crossed back into Austria and was sighted early Thursday.






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