Police in central Italy are investigating whether anyone deliberately poisoned three rare bears found dead in a national park.
One of the animals was identified as Bernardo, a 10-year old bear who has become a familiar sight in the Abruzzo region. Another is thought to be his mate. The discovery of a third corpse raised suspicions of foul play.
The Abruzzo mountains are home to the country’s only remaining indigenous bears. Fewer than 50 live in the area and are considered to be critically endangered.
World Wildlife Fund manager Franco Ferroni said: “We at WWF have taken tough action, and we’re offering a 10,000 euro reward to find those responsible and cut through the veil of silence and conspiracy that surrounds poaching.”
Forestry officials believe the poison that most likely killed the bears was probably intended for more dangerous predators such as wolves.
In Italy, killing an animal from a protected species can carry a prison sentence of up to three months, but politicians and environmentalists are calling for a harsher response.