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Search for wild German brown bear intensifies

6/19/2006

KOCHEL AM SEE, Germany — The race to catch a brown bear wandering around Bavaria and Austria gained urgency after he strolled into a lakeside resort and even sat down outside a police station, officials said Sunday.

The bear — a fugitive from Italy officially named JJ1 but dubbed Bruno by German media — ambled into Germany last month, becoming the first wild bear sighted in the country since 1835. He is part of a program in northern Italy to reintroduce the animals in the Alps.

A spate of reported sightings in southern Bavaria and neighboring Austria has kept Germany's attention even amid wall-to-wall coverage of the soccer World Cup.

The 220-pound bear is an unwelcome visitor because he has killed livestock and approached homes. Authorities say his lack of shyness could make him dangerous to humans.

Late Friday night, Bruno proved his boldness by wandering into the Bavarian lakeside resort of Kochel am See. A man walking his dog saw the animal at close range twice before Bruno fled.

A little later, onlookers saw Bruno sit down in front of the town's police station before heading off into the woods.

Gebhard Mueller, a 47-year-old mechanic from southwestern Germany who was vacationing in the town, said he was smoking a cigarette on his balcony when he spotted Bruno in the middle of the street.

"I shouted, 'The bear! The bear!"' Mueller said. "When I shouted, it made itself scarce straight away — it ran toward the woods."

A Finnish tracking team that has been searching for Bruno gained a fifth member Sunday — the country's top bear-tracking dog.

The ongoing saga "sounds funny, but one day it may not be so amusing," Christoph Himighofen, the Bavarian state environment ministry's head of nature protection, told reporters. "This bear must quickly be taken out of the wild because he is a potential risk."

Bruno has killed about 25 sheep and four goats, as well as many rabbits and chickens and at least one guinea pig seized from farmyards. He has also raided beehives.

The state government initially authorized the shooting of the bear — prompting an outcry from animal rights activists.

If caught, Bruno is to be released in a nature reserve near Munich, or returned to northern Italy.