A Boy, a Bear and a Close Call in the Mountains of Italy

A Boy, a Bear and a Close Call in the Mountains of Italy


ROME — Showing remarkable aplomb, 12-year-old Alessandro Breda slowly tiptoes down a scrubby hill during a walk in the Dolomites. “Photo,” he whispers hoarsely to his companion, Loris Calliari, who assures him he’s taking one.

“Come, Ale, come,” says Mr. Calliari. “Don’t turn your back to him.”

“Him” is the sizable brown bear shadowing the boy as he makes his descent during a family hike.

Alessandro loses a smidgen of cool only after his grandmother, waiting below, becomes aware of what is happening and begins howling with fear.

“Stop! Stop!” Alessandro urges her.

But even then he manages to keep his grip on a bag of pine buds he has been gathering.

The scene was captured on video Sunday by Mr. Calliari — the boy’s mother is his girlfriend — during the hike in the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park in Trentino, in northern Italy.

Alessandro’s remarkable composure was no accident. In an interview with the Italian broadcaster RAI, he said he had recently watched a video on how to behave if you run into a bear.

“I’d learned that if you yell, the bear becomes agitated and becomes much more aggressive,” he said.

In fact, Alessandro did everything he was supposed to do. He kept his cool, didn’t yell, and walked slowly away, as experts advise.

There are between 82 and 93 bears residing in an area that includes the nature park of nearly 600 square miles, according to the department’s most recent report, but conflicts between human and bear are rare. There have only been three maulings in the area since 2014.

“In all three cases, they were females who thought their cubs were at risk,” said Claudio Groff, the coordinator of the large carnivores division of the Forestry and Wildlife Department of the Autonomous Province of Trento.

In Alessandro’s case, Mr. Groff said, “the bear was clearly not aggressive, and the boy behaved well.”

Marco Galaverni, scientific director of WWF Italy said that such encounters, especially at such a close range, were rare in the Alps. He, too, said that the bear Alessandro ran into had not been behaving in an aggressive manner and that it was “merely curious about a child with something in his hand.”

Though the video shows the bear rearing up on its hind legs a few times, that is not threatening behavior, Mr. Galaverni said. Bears don’t see well, he said, so they rise up “to study the situation, and capture more smells.”

“When a bear is feeling aggressive, it makes that pretty clear,” Mr. Galaverni said.

So while the episode captured on video might have been scary, Mr. Galaverni said, the actual risk to the boy was relatively low. “You’re much more likely to be attacked by a neighbor’s dog,” he said.

Mr. Calliari, Alessandro, his mother and other family members encountered the bear while hiking above 6,500 feet. They had gone to pick the buds of the mugo pine tree, a shrubby evergreen that grows low to the ground, which are used to make syrup.

Bears like to bed down in the trees during the daytime hours, when they are less active. “I’m pretty sure that the bear had been sleeping, because we hadn’t seen it coming up,” Mr. Calliari said.

Mr. Calliari had watched the bear-safety video with Alessandro, and so he also knew what to do. He felt confident, he said, that the bear would not attack, which is why he took the video.

The attacks came only later, after he posted the video online Sunday. “I’ve been bombarded with telephone calls,” he said.

Alessandro said in the TV interview that he loved nature and animals and that he thought the bear had “behaved well” toward him.

Mr. Calliari said that Alessandro was not at all shaken by his close encounter with nature and that he couldn’t wait to go hiking again.

Are he and the boy’s mother equally enthusiastic?

“A little less,” Mr. Calliari said.



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