Deemed a danger to humans and wildlife, M49 was captured in the Trentino region of northern Italy on Sunday and placed in a high-security enclosure with other “so-called problem bears,” the Trentino Press Office said in a statement. But mere walls couldn't contain M49. Within hours, the bear had scaled all three electric fences, plus a 13-foot (4.3 meters) barrier and vanished without a trace.
A search team of park rangers and sniffer dogs is scouring the region for M49, whose tracking collar was removed upon his capture. Trentino Gov. Maurizio Fugatti gave the rangers permission to shoot the bear if they encounter him, explaining in a translated statement that the bear's escape over a fence "carrying 7,000 volts shows how dangerous it is." [8 Human-Animal Encounters That Went Horribly Wrong]
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature Italy disagreed. In a statement, representatives from the group said the fence was most likely "not working properly, since bears do not fly."
Italian Twitter is following M49's escape with baited breath, and users appear to be on the side of the fluffy fugitive. The hashtag "#fugaperlaliberta," which means "#escapeforfreedom" in Italian, is trending on Twitter.
Brown bears are native to the Italian Alps but were nearly extinct in the region by the early 20th century. In the late 1990s, conservationists brought 10 brown bears to Italy from Slovenia. That population of 10 has since grown to between 50 and 60 bears.
Since the reintroduction effort, bears in the region have frequently come into contact with humans. In 2017, one bear startled an Italian village when the animal lowered itself into an alley and barreled through the town, The Telegraph reported. That same year, another bear was shot when it mauled an elderly man walking his dog.
Trentino authorities could have prevented interaction between M49 and humans by setting up electric fences outside of populated areas, biologist Luigi Boitani from Rome's La Sapienza University told Italian media, Phys.org reported.
That said, the electrified enclosure was never going to contain "a large, adult and spirited male bear," Boitani said. (His statement was translated from Italian.)
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Originally published on Live Science.
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Isobel Whitcomb is a contributing writer for Live Science who covers the environment, animals and health. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Fatherly, Atlas Obscura, Hakai Magazine and Scholastic's Science World Magazine. Isobel's roots are in science. She studied biology at Scripps College in Claremont, California, while working in two different labs and completing a fellowship at Crater Lake National Park. She completed her master's degree in journalism at NYU's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon.