updated 6/26/2006 4:30:43 PM ET 2006-06-26T20:30:43

Bruno, the brown bear who sauntered into Germany through the Italian Alps and eluded pursuers in a month-long mountain odyssey, was shot and killed Monday, to the dismay of many animal lovers.

The first wild bear to be seen in Germany since 1835 was shot by government-sanctioned hunters in an Alpine meadow in the early morning, putting an end to a sometimes humorous saga that has made headlines around Europe, even in competition with the World Cup.

Bruno was part of a project to reintroduce bears in northern Italy, but he roamed into Austria and Germany. In recent weeks he regularly popped out of the woods to make brief but brazen appearances — on one occasion, plunking down for a rest in front of a police station in the Bavarian lakeside resort of Kochel am See. But a pack of crack Finnish tracking dogs was sent home in defeat after failing to corner him so he could be tranquilized and sent home.

The shooting brought immediate condemnation from environmental groups and some politicians, and Bavarian environment minister Werner Schnappauf — who gave permission for the bear to be killed — received death threats.

The 2-year-old bear had dined on sheep, killed rabbits and broken into beehives.

‘No other solution’
Officials said it was only a matter of time before the 220-pound Bruno attacked a human.

"There was no other solution," Anton Steixner, an official from the Austrian state of Tyrol, told reporters.

"Even animal rights activists should understand that this bear killed sheep and tore into rabbits purely for pleasure," Steixner said. "Rabbits are also deserving of sympathy."

But Tony Scherer, mayor of Schliersee, the Bavarian town near Spitzingsee lake, where Bruno was killed, disagreed.

"The death penalty has been abolished," said Scherer. "This bear didn't do anything bad — for me it is absolutely unnecessary for him to have been shot."

Bruno was killed instantly by a single shot from 150 meters, officials said. They would not identify the three hunters involved in the 4:50 a.m. shooting, citing possible threats from animal lovers.

Evaded captors for weeks
The 2-year-old bear was spotted in Bavaria in May. DNA samples from hair he left behind were used to identify him as JJ1, part of the project in Italy.

Bavarian authorities gave permission for hunters to kill the bear, then backed down in the face of the ensuing outcry and decided to try to capture him.

But the bear kept ahead of his pursuers.

On the weekend, Bavarian officials said they would reinstate permission for hunters to shoot the bear on Tuesday. After the bear was killed on Monday, however, they said informal permission had been granted starting Saturday.

‘It won’t bring Bruno back’
The head of the German Animal Protection Federation said his organization was considering legal action.

"I am horrified, indignant and sad — for weeks it was apparently impossible to catch the bear; the permission to shoot him is barely given and he is already dead," Wolfgang Apel said. "We will examine all legal avenues, even though it won't bring Bruno back."

Franz Maget, a top member of the opposition Social Democrats in Bavaria, urged that Schnappauf resign.

"Bear-killer Schnappauf has failed as environment minister and should hang up his hat," Maget said. "The permission to shoot him was a mistake and possibly violated the law."

To be put on display
In Austria, the animal rights group Four Paws denounced the shooting and called for a police investigation.

But Schnappauf's deputy, Otmar Bernhard, said that while Bruno's death was "regrettable," it was the "only solution."

"He walked past hikers, hikers walked past him — that is extremely dangerous and not acceptable," Bernhard said.

Bruno was to be dissected by veterinarians in Munich later Monday, and then prepared to be put on display in Munich's Museum of Man and Nature, Bernhard said.

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