Begging for Marsican Bears: The Path to Justice and Co-Existence

A bear has never represented any danger to humans in Abruzzo, not even when it found itself frequenting human inhabited areas,

Marco Marsilio, Regional President Abruzzo


September never tragically arrived for the highly endangered Marsican Bear, Amarena.  She was named after  her love of eating the wild black cherries (Amarena in Italian) that grow abundantly in the Abruzzo.  This autumn she should have been feasting on berries and beech nuts with her 2 young cubs, showing them how to fatten up ready for winter and how to manage the snows and predators that can be partial to a young bear cub or two,  They would have left her side next spring , when about 15 months old.

Amarena and Cub by Kevin Gesmundo

A 56 year old man, by trade a butcher in San Benedetto dei Marsica illegally killed Amarena with one shot for disturbing his estate and chickens.  The town is located just outside the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park.There are estimated to be 60 Marsican Bears, now there is one and potentially three less this year.

Her orphaned cubs are just 8 months old and have evaded capture by park officials who were eager to try and ensure their future and well being.  Officials from the park have said they will no longer attempt to capture them but will monitor them.  Despite their age, they are feeding well, back in the safety of the national park that celebrates its centenary this year.  However,  the road ahead is fraught as the park press release outlined, “It should be remembered that unfortunately the chances of survival are not high and that the pitfalls, even natural ones (interactions with other species), are many. Any disturbance and/or interference could cause the cubs to move from suitable, safer areas and for them to separate.”


Supporting animal and environmental organisations like the bear charity,  Salviamo l’Orso and the WWF, who work together in these cases, is the way to ensure that those who kill a critically endangered species are brought to justice and made an example to deter others. Together, they are bringing a civil case against the defendant, Signor Leombruni for full compensation to the national park, region, and nation.   The comune (municipality) of Villalago is also bringing a civil action.  Amarena was an honorary citizen of the town.  The Avezzano Public Prosecutor’s Office has served notice on Signor Leombruni under the hypothesis of the killing of an animal with cruelty or without necessity, which carries a custodial sentence of between 2 months and 4 years.

Locals are rallying together, boycotting his business, painting murals, organising rallies, and translating their disgust into action. Even two hunting associations have stated that they will bring a civil action if this act is deemed criminal. The defendant hasn’t had a hunting license for 15 years, and they have expressed dismay that he is called a ‘hunter’ in the media, tarnishing their reputations. 

Join the Rally in Pescina on Sunday 10th September @10.00 and 15.00 San Benedetto dei Marsica

One has to question why Signor Leombruni kept a loaded 12-gauge shotgun in his house?  X-rays from the autopsy discovered hunters’ pellets lodged in Amarena’s body, she had been hit before, however it wasn’t a pellet that killed her but Leombruni’s single cartridge that entered Amarena’s lung from just close to her shoulder.  It compressed her internal organs and caused fatal hemorrhaging.  Her death was slow, she tried repeatedly to get up, no doubt to get back to her cubs as onlookers and a park ranger have testified.  The style of gun, the cartridge, do add weight to Leombruni’s ‘reputation’ as a poacher. Perhaps Italy needs to reconsider its gun license laws; if you revoke your hunting license, should you not be forced to surrender your gun?

Trigger Happy

There are plenty of people like Signor Leombruni in Italy and overseas who like to play ‘Alpha’ with their guns without any thought of the impact on anyone else—the victim, their family, neighbours, workers, town, region, nation, continent, and planet. Signor Leombruni could have easily waited until Amarena had left his chicken coop if he was so frightened of a ‘standing bear’ this being one of the many changing reasons he has given to shooting her. He knew he’d get compensation for any damage caused by her. He also knew bears and wolves are protected animals, but he chose a different path and killed her with one shot. He didn’t try to maim her; it was a shoot-to-kill approach. 

Co-Existence – a Political Game

Italy’s right-wing political leaders’ actions and statements lead by poor example to men like Leombruni, showing  an inactive and negative stance on wildlife and co-existence. This year, there was the case of the jogger supposedly killed by a Mother Bear in the North (Trentino-Alto Adige) JJ4, who was then trapped, separating her from her cubs. Ministers called for her to be exterminated, particularly as she was a ‘foreign’ bear. The jogger’s parents called for her reprieve, and evidence now shows they have the wrong bear captive; the canines indicate it was a male bear! Italy’s environment minister, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, suggested the bears should be relocated to other parts of the country, if not abroad, and locals could be equipped with anti-aggression spray. It sounds so much like their anti-migrant policy! Co-existence is a long way off for those who have had education but choose to sprint down a path that guarantees them a percentage of votes.

If only the local government had invested more in fencing and municipal cement bins which bears and other wildlife could not feed from.  It would have reduced the attraction of entering a ‘human’ area. In the 9 months between the death of Amarena and her son Juan Carrito in January from when he was killed in an RTA, only one set of bins has been put in place, paid for by the bear charity Salviamo l’Orso.

Inaction by Local and National Governments

Nothing has been planned or invested in by the local Abruzzo government to help protect the bears. There is a lot of lament and crocodile tears by these politicians, but they lack action despite the bears bringing much needed revenue to the region. Why is there only one bear-smart community in Abruzzo? Shouldn’t every village in and around the national parks they frequent be one? The bear charity Salviamo l’Orso cannot do this alone, and nor should it have to!   It’s pitiful that only 2 hiking and tour companies in Abruzzo, Wildlife Adventures and Trekking with Marta donate a % of their tours to help keep bears safe and sponsor the charity.  We at LifeInAbruzzo will donate 10% of the net fee from each new subscriber to our new Abruzzo Directory project as we move across from blog to our new cultural association.

Step up

We hope the government at the local and national levels step up and educate, setting an example in implementing positive co-existence that is safe for bears and for humans.  Wildlife must be treated as sentient beings rather than targets for ‘sport’ by shotguns.  We have seen how despite the increased allowance of hours to hunt boars, the population has not fallen rather it has increased as science predicted due to poor waste management by humans that keeps them happily fed and healthy, together with a warmer climate lacking the harsh winters that had previously helped control the population. Our wildlife is already facing the loss of habitat from the ugly consequences of human inaction on the climate breakdown, and in tow, as Lucio Zazzara from the Maiella GeoPark has said “they face an increased threat from subcultures that favour a  violent answer to problems that exist in the relationship between man and nature.”

As for PR and the economic  impact on Abruzzo, this man’s barbaric choice of action has been reported absolutely everywhere in the world.  The Guardian, BBC, The Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News are just a handful of the international media outlets that have all reported this story. Will tourists vote with their feet and choose not to come to Abruzzo, who knows?  Lets hope they come with eyes wide open, aware and as the Director of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park said, “that we are no model” and that they work with us to make things better.  We’d request before booking that you ask your tour, accommodation or holiday provider if they donate to protect the region’s precious wildlife, and if they don’t use ask why and think about looking elsewhere. Money is sometimes the only thing that talks, educates and provokes compassion and gets people to act when it is removed.

Resource for Marsican Bears

Donate to Salviamo l’Orso to help pay for legal fees to ensure Mr Leombruni compensates the community, region, country and planet for his unlawful killing of Amarena

Amarena and her cubs
Sign our Petition Requesting the Local Abruzzo Government to Step up and Protect Abruzzo's Endangered Bears
The Loss of our Beautiful Marsican Bear, Juan Carrito, read more

Watch our Sunday Life in Abruzzo, with Mario Cipollone, Salviamo l’Orso

One of a series of lectures we held with sustainability and art champions during the lockdown of the pandemic

Marsican Bear Drawing Competition
Learn How to Draw a Marsican Bear

9 months is the space of time between the death by humans of Amarena and her son Juan Carrito. 

In this time only 1 local council has installed cement municipal refuse bear bins that stop bears feeding on human waste.  This was paid for by the bear charity, Salviamo l’Orso, NOT the local council, not the regional government and not the national government.

To read more about the lifecycle of Marsican bears, read the informative site Orso e Formica (Bear and Ant, in English)

11 million euros is the figure a co-funded EU report to improve human-bear co-existence  has concluded that the Marsican bear has generated in advertising revenue between 2015-2020 for Abruzzo. This is much higher than the costs incurred for the management of the man-bear conflict, in terms of prevention and compensation for the economic damage caused by the endangered species.

Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.

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11 September 2023 00:48

Sam, how do we sign the petition for the bears? I cannot find anywhere to click a link. Thank you.

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