Known across the continent for his genius escape attempts, M49 – also known as Papillon – has finally been brought back to his enclosure after a 42-day escapade. The huge Alpine brown bear managed to get through the reinforced barriers keeping him in his home in the Casteller center, Italy, before fleeing to the mountains of the Autonomous Province of Trento.
The breakout occurred on July 27, in which Papillon not only managed to escape the enclosure but also remove a radio collar put in place to monitor him after a previous escape just over a year ago. During this previous attempt, on July 15, 2019, Papillon managed to scale three electric fences and a 4-meter (13-foot) wall to escape, prompting a huge province-wide bear-hunt.
During his bid for freedom, Papillon was linked to a number of livestock deaths, leading the authorities to issue an order for his return either dead or alive. After a number of sightings by hikers and even around the city of Trento, he was captured on April 29, 2020, ending his 289 days on the run. However, clearly missing the wild and free lifestyle, the Casteller center could only keep control of Papillon for just two months before he managed to escape again on July 27, 2020, ensuring his inclusion on the list of greatest animal escapes.
Lasting just 42 days this time, the roaming bear was once again captured by a tube trap and transferred to an internal enclosure. Papillon was in good health when captured, weighing in at a hefty 167 kilograms (368 pounds).
M49 was nicknamed Papillon as a nod to the eponymous character in Henri Charrière's autobiographical novel, in which Charrière is detained in the French penal colony of French Guiana before making an escape. The bear’s daring escapes clearly resonated with lovers of the famous book, becoming a symbol of freedom to his fans in the area.
As a result of his persistence escapes, WWF Italia and various animal rights activists in the Trento area called for a halt to the attempts to capture an animal so desperate for freedom. Believing he is of no public safety threat, many in the area wish that the bear can be released and monitored as opposed to held in a facility. WWF Italy stated that any allegations of M49 being a danger to humans are unfounded and that he has shown no aggression in his limited encounters made with humans.
However, authorities and local news outlets disagree, with local RAI News reporting M49 made “numerous intrusions into homes, shelters and other buildings, confirming the dangerous behavior towards humans”. Bears that show a tendency towards human interactions usually require serious interventions, including relocation, capture, and sometimes even killing them. Luckily, this wasn’t required for Papillon, who is now safely back at the facility – no doubt planning his next great escape.