A young, male bear has injured a police officer in northern Italy, pouncing on the man and knocking him to the ground in what witnesses described as an unprovoked attack.
The incident took place near a lake, just outside the city of Andalo in the Trentino region, where the carabinieri officer, Diego Balasso, 24, was walking with a friend on Saturday.
“At one point, we heard a noise, like a branch breaking,” Balasso said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. “Then I saw the black silhouette of an animal and when I understood it was a bear, I yelled at my friend not to move and I too remained motionless.”
Balasso said the bear – named with the code M57 – then stood up and started to smell him. Immediately afterwards, however, the animal lowered itself and attempted to bite the policeman’s knee.
“I took a step back,” Balasso said, “but, at that point, he attacked me in the leg and threw me to the ground. I tried to throw the phone at him, but he kept dragging me. Maybe he wanted to take me to the lake.”
Luckily, his friend’s brother and some passersby chased the animal away, while the officer remained curled up in a ball, covering his face.
“If it weren’t for those people, I would have died,” Balasso said.
The officer sustained injuries on his arms, legs, abdomen and head – but fortunately nothing serious.
The bear was later tracked down. “The two-and-a-half-year-old animal, weighing 121kg, was eventually captured a few hours later, using a tranquilliser dart,” the Provincia Autonoma di Trento said in a statement.
After their population dwindled to just four in Trentino, Alpine brown bears were reintroduced to the area in 2000. However, the recent attack has rekindled the debate on the presence of these animals in the region, which many consider too numerous. The population stands at about 90.
“Contrary to popular belief, bears aren’t even aggressive, they attack if they are threatened or afraid or to protect their cubs. But, due to the lack of information to prevent these incidents in those areas, we now find ourselves with another bear thrown in a cage,” Ornella Dorigatti, Trento representative of the International Organization for Animal Protection, told the Guardian.
“Authorities have taken the funding for reintroducing the bears. The money should be used to manage these animals not to repress them.”
Dorigatti said people encountering bears were advised to remain calm as they put distance between themselves and the animal.
“If you run into a bear, you are supposed to not yell and slowly walk away,” she said. “The man shouldn’t have yelled and he shouldn’t have let the bear come that close to him.
“There is a video that went viral last May, showing a 12-year-old boy in the Dolomites who ran into a bear. He remained calm, didn’t yell and walked slowly away, as experts advise.”