Italy court suspends death order for bear that killed runner

ROME (Reuters) - An Italian court on Friday suspended for at least another month a culling order for a bear blamed for the killing of a 26-year-old runner in the Italian Alps.

The death of Andrea Papi, on April 5, reopened a debate in Italy on the co-existence between humans and wildlife in an area that was re-populated with bears from 1999 thanks to an EU-funded programme.

The bear in question, a 17-year-old female known as JJ4, was captured by park rangers after her involvement in the attack was established by DNA evidence.

The local provincial government says the animal needs to be put down as it has a history of attacking humans, but environmental groups object.

The Trento administrative court partially upheld the groups' appeals and froze the killing order until June 27, giving parties time to submit further evidence.

Environmental groups were asked, in particular, to elaborate on their proposal to move the bear to a reserve in Italy or abroad, as an alternative to culling.

Judges said they would reconsider the issue in a hearing on Dec. 14. A spokeswoman for animal rights lobby LAV said that this meant the bear could not be killed before then, but there was no immediate confirmation of this from the court itself.

Judges decreed the same suspension for another bear, MJ5, which has yet to be captured and is also facing a cull order after he injured a man in March who was walking his dog on a mountain path.

Local government data indicates that Trentino had around 100 wild bears in 2021, with numbers increasing by about 10% per year from 2015 onwards.

Trentino governor Maurizio Fugatti said last month that the optimal number would be around 50, and that his province now has around 70 "excess" bears.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini, Editing by Louise Heavens)