Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Killing the bear - killing hope

"The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily" is a story for children written by the Italian poet and novelist Dino Buzzati. It tells of how the bears came down from their mountains, defeated humans, and took over the government to create a society in which humans and bears live together in harmony. It is, of course, a fairy tale and some recent events in the Trentino region, in Italy, show how difficult it is for humans and bears to live together in harmony. And this is bad both for bears and for humans.

There have been many shocking events in this eventful 2014, but the one that shocked me most took place in the Northern Italian region of Trentino, where a wild female bear named "Daniza" was hunted and killed in the name of security for the tourists of the region. A minor story, for sure, but one that explains a lot about the behavior of humans and the problems we have when we try to manage our wold.

The story started this August in Trentino, when someone named Daniele Maturi stumbled into a wild female bear (known to humans as "Daniza") and her two cubs while searching for mushrooms in the woods. According to Mr. Maturi's own narration, he remained there to "observe the bears" instead of retreating as quickly and quietly as possible. The bear reacted attacking him, wounding him slightly, before retreating into the deep forest with her cubs. This generated a widespread public outcry, with calls for the elimination of the "dangerous animal," until Daniza was hunted down and killed by an overdose of anesthetic. Officially, it was a mistake, but more likely it was the result of the age-old attitude that says that "the only good X is dead X", where X can be Indian, bear, or anything deemed to be not human, or not human enough. In the end, Daniza's cubs may not be able to survive after the killing of their mother, but human cubs will be able to walk in a sanitized and safe forest where they won't risk to be attacked by anything larger and more dangerous than a squirrel. 

This sad story casts much light on the attitude of people in Italy about bears and about wilderness in general. It appears that in Trentino there exists a lively "anti-bear" movement - mainly organized by the Northern League -  which, among other actions, had organized a dinner based on bear meat in 2011 intended to demonstrate what, in their opinion, was to be done with the wild bears of the forest. After that the story told by Mr. Maturi appeared on newspapers, hotel owners reported that many of their customers had canceled their reservations, out of fear of the wild bears. From the debate on the press and on the web, it appears that quite a number of people were genuinely concerned that their children could be devoured by wild bears if  they were to take a walk in the parks of the Trentino region.

On the other side of the debate, Daniza was praised for her restraint in not having killed the human intruder, when she could have easily done so. Mr. Maturi, instead, was insulted and vilified in all possible ways because of his idiocy in not leaving in peace a female bear with her cubs. He was also accused of being part of a conspiracy designed to cast bears in a bad light and favor their elimination from the forests of Trentino (the latter accusation automatically implies the former).

Most of the debate seems to have missed the fundamental point of this story, which is that both humans and bears simply acted according to their genetic set-up and, probably, couldn't have behaved otherwise. We cannot exclude that Daniza the bear was intelligent enough to choose not to kill Mr. Maturi to avoid angering humans too much. But, most likely, she simply behaved according to the way female bears have always behaved: aggressively defending their cubs against all perceived. On the other side, Mr. Maturi, politicians, and most people, simply behaved according to the way human beings have always behaved; exploiting everything they perceive as a "resource" and aggressively eliminating anything they see as an obstacle. Countries other than Italy may have a less nasty attitude toward wild bears but, everywhere, if wilderness is an obstacle to profit, wilderness always loses. 

To an IQ test, most human beings (possibly including also Mr. Maturi) will score better than most bears. But, if human beings are individually smarter than bears (at least in their ability to manipulate abstract symbols), that doesn't mean that they are smarter than bears as a species. They way they behave, actually, shows no signs of intelligence as they are simply marching straight on, ruthlessly stomping over everything they see as stopping them in their path. It is our destiny as human beings to destroy what keeps us alive; but, in the end, it is unavoidable: it is what we are. Could we change for the better in the future? Probably not: killing the bear has killed the hope for that. The bell for Daniza is ringing for us.

BTW - one result of the Daniza story was a nation-wide call on boycotting the Trentino region. You might consider that: perhaps not all hope is lost.. 


  1. I had an experience with a similar feel to it a few months ago. A neighbor came to my house asking that a bee hive that was partially on our property be removed. This neighbor complained that a couple of Mexican workers that he had hired were stung by the bees and did not want to work in the area anymore as long as the bees remained.

    I agreed that removing the bees was acceptable but that killing them was not something I would do, at least right away. The neighbor went away saying that he was going to make some phone calls to see if the bees could be removed. He came back to the house a short time later saying that removing the bees was not possible. I told him that I would think about the matter but that I could not make a decision that day.

    So the next day we called "backyard bees" and asked them to come by and see about removing the bees. The backyard bees people did come by the next day but they found that the queen bee had already been killed. I learned that the neighbor with the original complaint had contacted another neighbor, just next door to us, who called someone to come over and kill the queen. The beehive was a large one and it was right on the borderline between our property and that of the close neighbor. "Backyard bees" explained that since the queen was killed, the rest of the bees would disperse and most if not all would die. Because this was the case, they just put on their special white suits and removed the hive, but left the bees to wander and die. I was not happy but there was nothing I could do.

    The complaining neighbor valued a bit of work on his property more than he did a whole hive of bees, which of course are in trouble anyway due to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

    The whole episode can be chalked up as another incident of human beings destroying a living creature or collection of living creatures because those creatures got in their way.

  2. Ricardo Almenar, a scientist who studies the collapse of civilizations, possibly would propose the following solution for the problem of bears: giving money to the owners of forest per each bear living in it. So It would be possible that the people of that area would begin to worry a little less by tourists and a little more by bears.

  3. its a very sad story, but i think in the uk there would be even more of a problem with a wild bear. even though the brown bear is a native animal to britain, long since eradicated of course by blind persecution, like virtually all predatory native mammals and birds, there is no way it would be re-introduced here. a certain type of person seems to have a pathological problem accepting even trivial perceived 'threats' from things like reintroduced sea eagles and other birds of prey, let alone bears. even though generally an animal loving nation, the uk has also got the craziest, most zealous predator eradication mentality in certain sectors of the population. its the usual reactionary know it all type that gets in the way of progress. lets just say most of them probably vote ukip.

  4. It's great post! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Humans don't naturally act like that; civilization does. There's hope for us once civilization ends.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)