By Federica Di Leonardo
The Marsican brown bear is on the brink of extinction. Despite authorities spending millions of Euros on its conservation, high human-caused mortality is menacing the survival of this distinct subspecies.
The Marsican brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus) is only found in the Italy's Central Apennines, less than 200 kilometers from Rome. The last reliable research carried out in 2011 by the University La Sapienza in Rome estimated a population of around 49 bears. Not surprisingly, the Marsican bear is at extremely high risk of extinction and is considered Critically Endangered on the Red List of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The population was once distributed over a large area of the Apennines, but during the last two centuries Marsican bears were devastated by hunting. Now they mostly live in a core area limited to the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise (PNALM) and some surrounding territories. Experts believe that due to its "long-term isolation from the other brown bear population," the Marsican bear is "a unique evolutionary and conservation unit, based on genetic and morphological traits," according to a paper from 2008.
Researches stated that bear’s high mortality rate is unacceptable and remains the biggest obstacle to the survival of the population. Poachers and collisions with cars are the biggest killers of Marsican bears, though for half of the deaths we do not have a definite diagnosis.
During the period of 1971 to 2013, 93 bears died. In the 1980s bears were mostly killed by poachers; in the 1990s most bears died as result of car accidents; and from 2000 on most deaths have been caused by poisoning. Two bears, an adult female and a yearling male were poisoned in 2003; three—an adult female, an adult male, and a subadult male - were poisoned in 2007 together with five wolves and eighteen wild boars. No one was found guilty for these crimes. More....