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BEAR STORIES

THE BEAR OF AMFISSA – SPRING 1994

In Amfissa in 1994, spring, there was a bear that was freed from local activists and the need for treatment was urgent (photo 1). Her teeth were destroyed because of the nose ring that she was bearing and malnutrition (photo 2, 3).
A group of three scientists, in their twenties/early thirties, responded to the cal and traveled from Athens to Amfissa, to heal the animal. The rescue team (two vets, Loukas Kamarianos and Alekos Rotas, and a student/dentist, Sofia Zioga) operated the bear (photo 4, 5, 6) before she was transferred to Nymphaio/Arctouros.

Yannis Ziogas
Painter
Associate Professor, EETF

Photo 1 to 6: © Loukas Kamarianos, Alekos Rotas, Sophia Zioga, 1994

AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEAR OF PRESPA – SPRING 2019

In Prespa I use to jog in a dirt road outside of Psarades. It is a beautiful route along the lake, with the mountains of Albania raising on the opposite shore. I knew that the place is bear territory, and I always sing loudly while running or I scream or I clap my hands. Generally, I make my presence perceivable.
One morning when I was returning I took a turn and there she was: majestic, fifty to sixty meters away from me. I remembered that it was one of the few times that I forgot to sing, I did not make any noise.
The ecstasy overcame the fear or panic.
We saw one another in the eyes, I decided to turn around and Ι started to walk away slowly, but only two steps later I turned to make sure that she was not following me. She was gone. All that lasted for less than a minute, but it seemed like centuries of a mnemonic experience.

Yannis Ziogas
Painter
Associate Professor, EETF

Photo 1 to 4: © George Evans

THE BEAR ON THE PAINTING STUDIO – FALL 2019

The academic painting studio where I teach is situated in a small rural village named Mesonisi, ten kilometers outside of Florina. It is surrounded from the plain of Pelagonia, filed with cornfields, creeks, fruit trees, in other words, an ideal bear habitat (photo 1, 2).
One morning (autumn 2019) I observed bear traces extending along the main dirt road of the plain. When my students came for their studio class, we went out in the cornfields to trace the steps of the bear in its natural habitat (photos 3, 4). We created a mold from plaster as a memorandum of the event (photos 5, 6).
That morning class was, probably, the first time in Fine Arts School history when a painting class took place out in the fields, parallel to the bear.

Yannis Ziogas
Painter
Associate Professor, EETF

Photo 1 to 6: © Yannis Ziogas, 2020

THE BEAR TOMBSTONE OF PRESPA – WINTER 2020

In May 2012 a male bear died in the area outside of Psarades. She had swallowed poison baits. The cadavre weighted 300 kilos and it was not possible to be transferred. Since the area is rocky it was also impossible to dig a grave. The guards of the National Park of Prespa covered it with a pile of small rocks.
Eight years later, January 2020, the students of the 1st Painting Workshop/Visual March to Prespes explored the area (photo 1, 2). A few rocks had been removed and the bones were visible (photo 3, 4).
How can one handle such a reality?

Yannis Ziogas
Painter
Associate Professor, EETF

Photo 1 to 4: © Yannis Ziogas, 2020

The biggest news out of the blue

It was the end of a long working day but still I had something to do. The wolf trap set in a remote valley in the north of the Majella National Park needed to be checked, to be sure everything was in the right place before the night. I reached the car equipped with all the necessary and I drove through the dirty road that brought to the trap, feeling my eyes heavy and the tiredness arising in my body. The trap site was perfect so I just started driving back along the dirty road and, suddenly, I heard something. I rushed out of the car and…yes! Wolves were howling! I felt my heart pumping fast and I enjoyed this rare wonderful event “Well – I thought – this is so worth the sacrifice to come here”. In a while the unexpected happened, a female bear with two cubs crossed the dirty road just in front of me. The mother stood up on her legs, to better understand what I was and if the situation was safe. The cubs looked at me for few seconds before bolting down along the forested slope of the mountain, where the mom-bear followed them just like if they were tied by one invisible thread. I was just astonished. Not only she was one of the few females with cubs left in the Apennine brown bear population, it was the first reliable detection of a female with cubs in the Majella National Park since a very long time.
Six years later here I am again, in that same spot, taking pictures of an adult bear footprints on the spring snow. I wonder if this is still her, I thank the wolves for making me part of their lives for few unforgettable minutes and I thank them for making me stop and live one of the most touching experiences a man can have.

Giovanna Di Domenico, Antonio Antonucci
Wildlife biologists
Majella National Park

The bear who told a story with its death

18th October 2016, M1.110 a sub-adult male Apennine brown bear was hit bay a car (or a truck) along a National Road running close to the Majella National Park. When the veterinary staff and the biologists of the MNP arrived he was still alive, its legs were abandoned on the asphalt without motion as if they were separated from the upper body. The severity of the spine injury was quite clear but still there was the hope that, maybe, it wasn’t so bad as it looked. Even though incapable of moving normally the bear was strongly trying to go away from people, toward the forest adjacent to the road where maybe he intended to find a refuge to recover. Something was weird in its movements, he was dragging himself using only the right front paw, the left one seemed to be injured as well. After being darted the bear fell asleep and was transported to a recovery center in the MNP. When he woke up the dawn was arriving and before midday M1.110 was lying dead on the cage floor, despite the veterinary staff did whatever was possible to try to save him. The radiography and the necropsy revealed that, as expected, the animal had several broken vertebrae and this, together with the consequent diffused hemorrhage, was the death cause. The left humerus had a two-months-old fracture, and several bullet fragments in the same bone revealed where the injury came from: the bear had been illegally shot two months before being hit by the car. M1.110 story was perhaps clear. He was shot some day in August by a person who was aiming to
the bear heart but failed, and reached the left humerus instead. The bear maybe swayed a little but managed to stay alive and flee. He lived two months with 3 good paws eating fruits and preparing for the winter denning but that fourth paw, maybe or maybe not, affected its capability to avoid a car at 4:00 a.m. of October the 18th. Its death told us a story, the story of the impact of human persecution and human-caused mortality in bear lives.

Giovanna Di Domenico
Wildlife biologist
Majella National Park

Soft, sweet, friendly, curious, happy…the bear as seen by children!

“Now in the Old Time there lived a boy called Sigo..” that’s how the tale started, one of the Native Americans legends about Muwin and how he became the bear’s child. Children coming from the villages of the Majella National Park listened to the story with eyes and ears opened, without interrupting one time. And when the story ended they asked to hear it again, being so amazing listening to how Sigo had the life saved by a mother bear, who died for her adopted cub sake. The words heard during the story-telling became for children a new story to be written and told with colorful drawings. The bear is friendly, and soft, and good and when he is hungry…he eats ants!

Giovanna Di Domenico
Wildlife biologist
Majella National Park