The most wanted bear in Europe has finally been captured after 42 days on the run.
A 149kg Alpine brown bear, codenamed M49, climbed over the fence of its enclosure at Italy’s Animal Care Centre Casteller and escaped on July 27.
It’s not the first time the animal has made a bid for freedom — it first escaped in July 2019 after climbing three electric fences and a four-metre barrier and vanishing into the woods.
M49 was captured in April but just two months later escaped again. When it was brought back to the wildlife centre for a second time its enclosure was reinforced and it was fitted with a radio collar.
But that didn’t stop the bear, and in late July it managed to remove its tracking collar and escape for the third time. It’s spent the last 42 days roaming the province of Trentino while authorities desperately tried to track it down.
The huge animal is believed to have killed livestock during its previous escapes, although it hasn’t shown aggression toward humans,
The bear has been recognised as a genius escape artist and has even been nicknamed Papillon, after the eponymous character from Henri Charrière’s memoir about escaping from a French penal colony.
On Monday, M49’s reign of freedom came to an end after it was caught in a trap in the area of Lagorai, about 60km from the Casteller wildlife centre.
Animal rights activists are furious that the bear has been taken back into captivity, and are even threatening legal action.
Ornella Dorigatti, the Trento representative of the International Organization for Animal Protection, has pledged to go on hunger strike for Papillon’s release.
“I’ve just taken this decision,” she told the Guardian.
“We must save these bears. We are their voice, and we will fight until M49 is free.”
The bear has previously been described as extremely dangerous, but the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says this accusation is unfounded.
“Papillon is an animal which in the past has only caused damage to infrastructure at the zoo, and for this reason it needs to be monitored, not locked up,” the organisation said.
There are currently an estimated 90 Alpine brown bears living in the wild in the Trentino region.