top of page


What future for endangered species ?

The JJ4 case: the legal story

On May 26, the Administrative Court of Trento, with order N. 00068/2023 REG RIC, granted the precautionary request filed by several animal rights associations (including LAV, ENPA, and OIPA) to temporarily suspend the decision to cull the bears JJ4 and MJ5 until June 27. By that date, the Court has determined that the involved associations and the Ministry of the Environment must present a relocation project as an alternative to culling. Currently, the most likely options involve moving the animals to a sanctuary in Germany, Romania, or Jordan. The facts are now well known to everyone: on April 5, the 26-year-old runner Andrea Papi was fatally attacked by the bear JJ4 in the woods above Caldes, a municipality in the Val di Sole (province of Trento). Confirming the bear's aggression through the autopsy, the President of the autonomous province of Trento ordered the culling of the implicated animal, along with another bear, MJ5, also deemed "problematic." This decision was based on the implementation of measures provided by PACOBACE (a document adopted by all territorial administrations in the Central Eastern Alps, the Ministry of the Environment, and ISPRA, representing the formal policy of the Italian state regarding the conservation and management of bears in the Alps), concerning the culling of animals considered "dangerous." Granting the appeal of LAV, ENPA, LEIDA, and OIPA, the Administrative Court of Trento suspends the culling measures, thus initiating a legal process that will conclude, as determined by the Court in order No. 00068/2023 REG RIC, with a hearing scheduled for December 14.

Among the criticisms raised by the Administrative Court regarding the culling decision are the local administration's failure to adopt a series of measures necessary for the conservation and management of the endangered alpine fauna, which are also provided for in the PACOBACE plan. These measures should be implemented preventively to ensure adequate and safe coexistence between humans and animals, thus avoiding the risk of incidents and subsequent culling measures, which are exceptional measures to be taken as a last resort.

In particular, the Court points out the inadequacy of the current conditions of the Casteller wildlife center, as well as the malfunctioning of the telemetric monitoring (radio collaring), which is necessary for effective control of the areas involved in the conservation of endangered fauna. This is the case, in fact, in the province of Trento, which has been hosting a brown bear repopulation project in the Brenta area called "Life Ursus" since 1996. The project was financed by the European Union in 1999 and aims to restore a vital population of bears in the Central Alps.

The JJ4 case: an international perspective

For weeks, at the center of the news and political debate, it seems that this issue lends itself to a series of reflections of much broader scope, particularly regarding the implications of the matter from an international law standpoint.

Included on the United Nations' agenda for environmental protection since the 1990s, the need to establish harmonious coexistence between humans and nature while safeguarding biodiversity lies at the heart of the Convention on Biological Diversity signed in 1992 and ratified to date by 196 states, including Italy through Law No. 124 of 1994.

Reaffirming the need to protect biological diversity in light of its importance for evolution and the maintenance of life in the biosphere, the treaty emphasizes the responsibility of the Parties to conserve ecosystems and natural habitats within their own territories. This includes the "restoration of populations of species of living organisms in their natural habitats" and preventing their depletion caused by human activities.

To achieve this goal, the Convention on Biological Diversity sets out a series of measures that must be implemented on the territories of the states. Parties are required to develop strategies, plans, or national programs for biodiversity conservation. In particular, the treaty calls for the establishment of protected areas or areas with special measures to conserve biological diversity (Article 8, letter a). It promotes the protection of ecosystems, natural habitats, and the species that inhabit them (Article 8, letter d), making "every effort to create the necessary conditions to ensure compatibility" between human activities and biodiversity, which should not be sacrificed in any way due to its importance for all of humanity.

By constituting binding obligations of international nature, the provisions of the treaty gain even more significance when placed in the context of the action plan established by the United Nations for the protection of sustainable development and the rights of future generations. This has been a concern of the organization since the late 1980s and was officially "enshrined" in 2015 with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ("Agenda 2030") by the General Assembly.

Reaffirming the shared goal of "a world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and wildlife and other living species are protected" (preamble, para. 8), and recognizing the need for economic and social development that ensures the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystems, and wildlife (preamble, para. 33), the Agenda 2030 emphasizes the importance of protecting marine and terrestrial species, particularly through Goals 14 and 15, dedicated to the conservation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, respectively. Similarly, the importance of ensuring adequate living conditions for animals is highlighted in Goal 3 (focused on collective well-being), Goal 11 (for sustainable cities and human settlements), and Goal 12 (for responsible consumption and production).

It is in light of such evidence that the international community has witnessed the progressive emergence of a new "animal consciousness" in recent years, emphasizing the importance of strengthening the protection of endangered animals or those subject to degrading treatment within the territories of states. This is evidenced by the recent rejection by UNESCO of Spain's candidacy to include bullfighting on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity established by the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, as well as the petition promoted by various international organizations to include endangered animal species on the World Heritage List under the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972.

Indeed, it is precisely regarding the need to preserve endangered wildlife that the international legal framework, particularly the United Nations, has drawn the attention of states.

Through the 2019 report prepared for the organization by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the United Nations reiterates that biodiversity has never been as threatened as it is today, with approximately one million animal and plant species at risk of extinction.

This data has further worsened in recent years. As seen in the Red List of endangered species curated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the number of animals in danger has significantly increased in the years 2021/2022, and the numbers do not promise to improve in 2023. It is precisely in light of these evidence that, supported by an increasing number of voices in international law advocating for a new approach to animal rights, considering them on par with humans and the environment in the pursuit of collective welfare, several countries that have coexisted with endangered species for centuries have implemented active policies aimed at the conservation of these animals and peaceful coexistence between humans and nature, even in the case of species considered "dangerous." For example, the Australian government adopted the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 1999, which obligates the state to adopt specific measures to ensure the adequate conservation of sharks and other dangerous species, minimizing the risks of human contact and imposing severe penalties for those who violate these provisions.

Similarly, Canada has developed a stringent policy aimed at protecting wildlife, drawing on decades of experience in conserving species inhabiting the forests of its territory, often in close proximity to communities and urban areas. In particular, Canadian legislation in this regard, under the Canada Wildlife Act, focuses on the need to conserve ecosystems populated by these animals, including wolves and bears, precisely by regulating human access to these geographical areas to mitigate the risk of potential attacks. By implementing this policy, Canadian authorities have achieved a good balance between the conservation of endangered species and the need to ensure public safety. According to environmental protection organizations, the probability of being attacked by a bear in Canada is close to zero each year, paradoxically making it much more likely to die from a dog attack, even in urban settings. This is despite the large number of bears present in Canadian territory, with government estimates counting approximately 600,000 bears spread across the country's numerous wildlife parks.

What future lies ahead for endangered species in Italy?

Returning to the topic at hand, these data make one reflect on the approach taken by the authorities in Trentino regarding the case of JJ4. In addition to condemning JJ4 and other "problematic" bears to death, the President of the Autonomous Province of Trento has expressed a firm intention to reduce the number of bears in the territory, even halving it. Currently, there are approximately 100 bears in Trentino, which represents about half of the estimated total bear population in Italy. All this is done without questioning the effectiveness of the measures provided by the PACOBACE plan or their actual implementation in the Trentino region. It's worth noting that JJ4 and the other "problematic" bears were supposed to be monitored with non-functioning radio collars, and the Casteller Alpine Wildlife Recovery Center was deemed inadequate for its purpose by the judicial authorities. It is precisely in light of these facts that on May 29th, the LAV (Anti-Vivisection League) announced that it had filed two new appeals with the Administrative Court of Trento to "challenge the provincial guidelines for the management and killing of bears and the Ispra-MUSE document on labeled problematic bears." These appeals add to the one already filed by the organization to request the annulment of the guidelines elaborated by the Province of Trento within the framework of the PACOBACE plan for the culling of dangerous animals, as they lack any reference to the planning of preventive measures. According to the LAV, it is within the normative framework adopted by the Trentino authorities that the causes of JJ4's case can be found. Indeed, these measures, which are rather generic, do not appear capable of preventing incidents like this, but rather create the basis for new similar occurrences, leading to the identification of new "problematic" bears and subsequent kill orders. In line with this perspective, since 2021, the LAV has been promoting the implementation of a "Pact for Coexistence between Humans and Bears" in Italy, working together with other animal rights organizations and receiving support from Canadian experts.

As we await June 27th, all we can do is hope that, in light of the global evolution towards a sustainable society that considers animal welfare in welfare policies, the judicial authorities will show sensitivity to the environmental issue at the heart of JJ4's case, restoring the proper balance in the coexistence between humans and nature.

Unfortunately, this balance seems to be too often neglected by Italian authorities when it comes to environmental issues or species conservation. One can think, for example, of the lax regulations concerning hunting in our country or the recent statements made by some political representatives who, in the aftermath of the disaster in Emilia Romagna, suggested that porcupines and coypus were to blame for damaging the territory with their burrows. There is still a long way to go.

Edited by Costanza Rizzetto


bottom of page