ROME (AP) — Animal rights groups called Thursday for the resignation of Italy's environment minister and the forestry police opened an investigation after a mother bear died during a capture operation ordered after she scuffled with a forager as her cubs slept nearby.
Daniza's fate has captivated Italians ever since a mushroom scavenger reported she attacked him in mid-August in northern Trento province. The issue gained attention because Daniza was part of an EU-funded operation to reintroduce brown bears to the region after they were nearly wiped out decades ago.
Animal rights activists have praised the project, but residents say the program has been too successful and that too many bears are now roaming a densely populated area, killing livestock and increasingly running into humans.
Those tensions fueled the debate over what to do with Daniza. Eventually, officials ordered her captured and transferred, overriding protests by activists who said she should be left alone since she was merely trying to protect her 8-month-old cubs.
Trento officials said Daniza had been captured and tranquilized Wednesday, but never woke up.
Italy's national forestry police opened an investigation and speculated that criminal charges could result for the mistreatment and death of an animal. The corps had actively protested Daniza's capture on the grounds that her cubs weren't yet old enough to care for themselves.
The National Animal Protection Agency, a non-governmental organization, called for Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti to resign, alleging he didn't do enough to protect Daniza.
Galletti said he had asked Trento officials for a report on what went wrong and said the priority must now be to care for Daniza's cubs.
The bear reintroduction project, called Live Ursus, began in 1999 with the introduction of nine brown bears from Slovenia. They now number about 50.
Trisha Thomas contributed to this report.