Outcry as Bruno the bear shot dead

GERMANY'S most celebrated rogue, Bruno the bear, has been shot dead after leading trackers and hunters on the wildest of chases.

Hours after authorities in Bavaria approved the shoot-to-kill policy against the marauding bear, he was brought down near an Alpine region where he was foraging for food.

Bruno's death was decried as cruel and pointless by animal welfare groups, who wanted trackers with humane traps to be given more time to catch him. He was the first wild brown bear to wander into Germany from Austria in 170 years after his ancestors were hunted to extinction.

Bruno's reign in Germany was short, but memorable. He inspired toys, drew tourists, featured in newspapers and magazines around the world and evaded the best that his only enemy could throw at him.

A team of Finnish hunters with Norwegian elk hounds were stopped in their tracks by a combination of his skill and a heatwave.

The Finns were brought in after Bruno first wandered into Germany six weeks ago and the Bavarian environmental ministry ordered him to be shot dead. The death sentence was suspended after a public outcry and the Finns - armed with blow-pipes with drugged darts - were unleashed upon him.

But on the first day out, their dogs had to be sheared because of the heat and one of them had a heart attack. While they rested each day, the sun scorched Bruno's scent and he was off again.

And Bruno never went near a bear-trap laced with honey and other goodies that could have saved his life. The bear-hunters went home on Friday to begin their annual holiday and the shoot-to-kill policy came into effect at midnight on Sunday.

Shortly before sunrise, Bruno was dead. The identity of the hunter has not been revealed as the administration in Bavaria prepares itself for a fierce public backlash.

The logic is: if a hunter could get close enough to kill him, why could they not simply sedate him?

In a country gripped by World Cup fever, he was the only other news story. He was hit by a car on his meanderings, but the vehicle came off worse. And he flaunted his freedom in the most brazen of ways, once killing a rabbit and a guinea pig in a small village before sitting down on the steps of the local police station to eat them.

Bruno's death in the region of Miesbach has left a sour taste for those who celebrated him as Germany hosts the World Cup under the slogan of "A Time to Make Friends".

"They didn't bother to be very friendly to one of God's creatures who was a miracle of nature, did they?" wept Claudia Grnbach, of an animal protection group in Bavaria, when she heard the news.

"They could so easily have redoubled efforts to catch him humanely and let him live his life out in peace in an animal sanctuary. Once more, man's cruelty to lesser creatures has triumphed over compassion."

Bruno devoured sheep and goats on his Alpine odyssey and wrecked quite a few beehives in his lust for honey. Authorities said he had to die in case his claws were soon deployed on humans.

His death came hours before a German toymaker planned to start marketing Bruno dolls. And another German businessman, Peter Nesselthaler, 35, said he plans to sue the hunter after printing hundreds of T-shirts and baseball caps with the slogan "You'll never catch me" the day before the bear was shot.

He said: "He had not harmed anyone. I am going to demand damages for all the merchandise I had printed for the bear tourists that I will not be able to sell now."

In Austria, Manfred Furtner, the head of the Austrian Hoteliers Association, said: "It's a disaster that he is gone. He was the best free advertising we have had for years. Neither the locals nor visitors were afraid of him."

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