In Italy, in the footsteps of the Apennine brown bear

By Guillaume Delacroix

Posted on January 01, 2022 at 11:00 p.m.

In the heart of Italy, on the slopes of the Apennines, a bear hides in its den. During the cold season, it points its snout from time to time, in search of water or food. polar bear is a subspecies of the large family of brown bears, those that hibernate, although geneticists argue about this.

There are only about fifty people left around L’Aquila, a city known to have been struck one spring night in 2009 by an earthquake that killed more than three hundred residents. The Apennine bear is on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the category of species “critically endangered”. It fascinates Carlo Lombardi, native of Pescara, a coastal city of the Adriatic. This thirty-something has made it a subject of photographic research, from 2019 to 2021.

The plantigrade survives in the national park created in 1922 on the borders of Abruzzo, Molise and Lazio, the region of Rome. A territory of more than 50,000 hectares, made up of beech forests. “My artistic work was initially very personal, but it converged with the preparations for the centenary celebrations of the park, scheduled for 2022”, says the photographer, who has ventured into these rugged lands.

Little-known archives in black and white

First introduced into the park by two NGOs, Rewilding Apennines (“Rewilding the Apennines”) and Salviamo l’Orso (“Save the bear”), Carlo Lombardi quickly collaborated with the local authorities. He thus had access to black and white archives, still largely unknown to the general public. “The oldest photos were taken in the 1930s by the site’s first director, he said. I digitized the negatives as well as the slides popular in the 1970s and 1980s. ”

“I am fighting against anthropomorphism which consists in wanting to give it a human dimension, on the grounds that it would be better understood that way. »Carlo Lombardi

This task required a lot of « discipline », he points out, and was able to stir his “Sensitivity”, because some images of the past can now strike the eye if not question it. Those, for example, which show the corpses of wolves: at the time, the authorities preferred to kill them to protect the bear. Those, too, where we see a stuffed bear, or a tanned bear skin.

Bygone practices – the wolf, always present, is now spared. Ironically, contemporary photos can in turn lead to confusion, recognizes Carlo Lombardi. So is that of the rifle, which happens to be a non-lethal weapon loaded with rubber bullets, the sole purpose of which is to keep the animal away.

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In Italy, in the footsteps of the Apennine brown bear