Italy is mourning Juan Carrito, a rare Apennine brown bear that captured the public's attention with exploits including drinking from fountains, playing with dogs, and breaking into a bakery. The bear, one of an estimated 60 members of the critically endangered subspecies in the Apennine mountains, died after he was hit by a car on a mountain road Monday, the New York Times reports. He was returned to the wild twice but he kept returning to mountain towns in the Abruzzo region, where he was considered an unofficial mascot. "He was an exuberant animal—I used to compare him to a sort of James Dean of bears, beautiful and damned," says Luciano Sammarone, head of Italy’s National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise.
Last year, Juan Carrito, known for his love of pizza—and whatever else he could find in the trash—walked more than 100 miles to return to Roccaraso, a ski resort town he apparently considered his home, the Guardian reports. Last month, he was spotted near a Michelin-starred restaurant, reports the Times of London. "He came out of the woods behind the restaurant, possibly attracted by the smell of panettone which they had been making at our culinary school," said head chef Niko Romito.
Juan Carrito was hit by an Opel car that was wrecked by the impact, though the driver was unharmed. Sammarone says rescuers were sent to the scene, but the bear died after around an hour. Biologist Marco Antonelli says the bear had become very "food-conditioned" by his time spent around humans, which is why he was wandering in January when he should have been hibernating. Sammarone says one consolation might be that Juan Carrito died as a "free bear," not stuck in an enclosure. "The challenge is to learn from this, otherwise his death will have been useless," he says, per the Times. (Read more bears stories.)