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Germany

US diplomats saw German inexperience in Bruno the bear's tale

'Nature is good, as long as it is controlled, channeled and subdued.' That was the US assessment of attitudes in Germany and Bavaria after an undocumented immigrant, a brown bear named Bruno, briefly sought a new home.

Bruno the brown bear on the prowl in Bavaria

The US consul general in Munich read a lot into Bruno's story

In one of the lighter diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks, it seems the US consulate in Munich took considerable interest in one of Bavaria's most ill-fated immigrants - a brown bear given the name Bruno.

Bruno was part of a scheme to reintroduce wild bears from Slovenia into the Alps. Via Italy and Austria, he made his way to Germany and was first sighted on May 20, 2006. His stay was a short but eventful one, before he died at the barrel of a gun.

"As the first wild bear seen in Germany since 1835, Bruno was initially extended a warm public welcome by [then] Bavarian Environment Minister Werner Schnappauf," the rather light-hearted missive to Washington, signed by the former US consul general to Munich, Matthew Rooney, recalled. "After all, Bruno could prove a boon for Bavaria's image just as visitors from around the world arrived for the World Cup."

The state premier at the time, Edmund Stoiber, also quickly welcomed Bruno to the country, but even this gesture of friendship carried an underlying threat.

"A bear that behaves normally lives in the woods, never leaves, and snatches perhaps one or two sheep each year," Stoiber said, trying to reassure people that Bruno posed no threat.

"However, as [then] Bavarian Interior Minister [Guenther] Beckstein has often emphasized, foreigners are only welcome in Bavaria provided they are willing to adapt to German culture and traditions," the diplomatic message to Washington cautioned with the benefit of hindsight.

'The problem bear'

A Bavarian hiker stands by the crucifix marking Bruno's death

'Bruno the bear - shot dead by dastardly murderers on June 26, 2006,' the memorial reads

Bruno proved smarter than Stoiber's average bear - or rather, more troublesome. Before long, he was spied raiding stables, killing sheep, chickens, and even a child's pet rabbit, and the US diplomat recalled how he quickly became "ursus non grata."

"Vexed by Bruno's unchecked roaming across Bavaria - he was even seen sitting on the steps of a police station eating a guinea pig - [State Premier] Edmund Stoiber took to referring to him as 'the Problem Bear.'"

After weeks of being Germany's new poster boy, suddenly Bruno was wanted, dead or alive.

But the government's shoot-to-kill order met considerable resistance from the public; letters poured in to the environment minister from children around the country calling for him to spare Bruno.

Seeking to avoid a public outcry, the Bavarian government spent at least 125,000 euros ($165,000) to fly in a special bear trap from the US and trained hunters with dogs from Finland.

Yet these efforts did not bear fruit, and on June 26 hunting season was declared open once again. Bruno was shot dead before lunchtime.

Consul General Rooney notes that Spiegel Online likened Bruno's death with that of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and Princess Diana. The online portal of Der Spiegel magazine, which cooperated with WikiLeaks in releasing the cables, was also the first to publish Rooney's comments on Bruno in Germany.

'Modern Germany … coexists uneasily with untamed nature'

A shepherd stands in front of four sheep killed by the bear

Bruno's appetite for livestock and bold behavior made him 'ursus non grata'

The initial backlash to Bruno's demise was fierce, with death threats leveled against then Environment Minister Schnappauf and the hunter who shot the brown bear. Despite this, the US consul general in Munich told his bosses in Washington to expect any fallout to be "relatively fleeting," also noting in a humorously understated manner that radical animal rights activists who make death threats aren't exactly considered the base of the Christian, conservative CSU party ruling the state.

"Perhaps the greatest insight from the whole Bruno affair might be that despite the veneer of 'greenness' extolled by German society, modern Germany in fact coexists rather uneasily with untamed nature," Rooney posited.

"True wilderness, even in mountainous Bavaria, hasn't really existed in Germany for generations - nature is good, as long as it is controlled, channeled, subdued."

Bruno was the last known brown bear to enter the German Alps.

The message to Washington - which was coordinated with the US embassy in Berlin - concluded that any endeavor to repopulate the region with wild creatures would probably be pointless.

"If the saga of Bavaria's 'Problem Bear' is any indicator, the strategy of reintroducing wild bears to the Alps, at least the German Alps, may be doomed to failure - that is, unless the bears are willing to cooperate by not being too wild."

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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