MUNICH – The wandering brown bear that killed livestock and eluded authorities for weeks in southern Germany and Austria was shot dead Monday, officials said. "A shot was fired; the bear is dead," said Manfred Woelfl, the Bavarian state government's bear specialist. He gave no further details ahead of a press conference.
Bavaria's environment ministry said the bear was killed at 4:50 a.m. (10:50 p.m. Sunday EDT) near the town of Zell.
The bear — a fugitive from Italy named JJ1 but dubbed Bruno by German media — ambled into Germany last month, becoming the first wild bear seen in the country since 1835. He was part of a program in northern Italy to reintroduce the animals in the Alps.
The 220-pound animal had not harmed humans, but had killed sheep and rabbits and looted beehives for honey. Officials said he was a hazard because he came near homes and appeared to have lost his fear of people.
Joern Ehlers, a spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Germany, regretted that the bear had been killed but conceded that the outcome had been expected.
"Unfortunately this was to be foreseen," said Ehlers. "He found his way into our hearts, although the danger also had to be seen."
In Austria, the animal rights group Four Paws denounced the shooting and said it was a shame that efforts to capture the bear alive had failed.
"We are extremely dismayed that Bruno had to die," the group said in a statement, calling for a police investigation into what it insisted was the bear's "premature" shooting.
The bear's travels had kept the attention of German media even during wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup.
Austrian authorities on Saturday gave hunters permission to kill the bear if they encountered it. Bavarian officials said they would consider a similar move as early as Tuesday; it wasn't clear whether the shooting had been authorized.
Authorities originally proposed permitting the bear to be shot, but backed away after public protest and tried to capture him alive and put him in a nature reserve. But they were unable to catch him.
A team of Finnish tracking dogs were sent home over the weekend after being unable to corner the bear so he could be shot with a tranquilizer dart.
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said he was personally sorry that the bear had been shot but that he trusted in the opinion of the professionals.
"Personally, I regretted it very much," Schuessel said.
The fact that the bear has made headlines in Germany, Austria and Italy showed "that basically we're all not doing too badly," Schuessel said.
German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel said he understood the decision to shoot, but wondered why attempts to catch the bear alive failed. "No one has been able to explain that to me," Gabriel said.