Papillon the bear: how the ‘escape genius’ sparked a national debate in Italy

Papillon the bear: how the ‘escape genius’ sparked a national debate in Italy

Once one of Europe’s ‘most wanted’ wild animals, the now incarcerated bear has become symbolic of the conflict over the reintroduction of large predators

The prisoner is in a cage measuring two by six metres, surrounded by three 7,000-volt electric fences, a four-metre-high barrier, CCTV and a number of rangers. From afar, the structure resembles a maximum-security prison or even the T rex enclosure in Jurassic Park. The inmate is not, however, an oversized reptile or a Sicilian mafia boss, but a bear. His code name is M49, AKA Papillon, and until his capture last month, he was Europe’s most wanted wild animal, accused of having slaughtered dozens of cows and sheep in the mountains of northern Italy.

Papillon, weighing 149kg (23st), is considered by the authorities to be an “escape genius”. He was recaptured by Italian rangers on 7 September having fled six weeks earlier from his enclosure at the Casteller wildlife centre, south of the city of Trento. The enclosure had previously been reinforced after Papillon had escaped three times. Another escape would be a public embarrassment for the authorities, which means that since 7 September, Papillon has been locked up, an official source told the Guardian.

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