Image courtesy of Shellie Raney via flickr
What — or who — is behind the mysterious disappearance of 20-25 Austrian bears? While that number may seem small, it in fact represents four fifths of the bear population that makes its living in the forests of Lower Austria and Styria. The disappearances, which started occurring in the late 90s, have caused sufficient consternation among local residents and environmentalists to lead to an investigation by the Austrian police.
Christoph Waldner of WWF attributes their disappearance to one of three reasons: natural mortality, migration or hunting — which is illegal because of the bears' endangered status. To Waldner, it seems pretty clear that hunters are to blame for the bears' disappearance.He quickly dismisses the first two possibilities, arguing that it is highly unlikely that so many bears could have died of natural causes over such a short time period (no cadavers were ever found); since no bears have ever been sighted near the Slovenian or Italian borders, he deems migration a non-issue. Others point out that the bears may simply have been killed by accident since wild boars — whose hunting is permitted at night — frequently wander into their habitats.
The authorities have so far had little luck tracking down the missing bears; they recently discovered two stuffed bears, which, upon further investigation, they found out had been killed a long time ago. Scientists are increasingly concerned that the bears could soon go extinct; at last count, they found only 38 still in existence.
Via ::Le Monde: La mystérieuse disparition des ours autrichiens (French newspaper)