In the Brenta area of northern Italy, a brown bear Ursus arctos population is rapidly going extinct. Restocking of the population is planned. In order to study the genetics of this highly vulnerable population with a minimum of stress to the animals we have developed a PCR-based method that allows the study of mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences from droppings collected in the field. This method is generally applicable to animals in the wild. Using excremental as well as hair samples, we show that the Brenta population is monomorphic for one mitochondrial lineage and that female as well as male bears exist in the area. In addition, 70 samples from other parts of Europe were studied. As others have previously reported, the mitochondrial gene pool of European bears is divided into two major clades, one with a western and the other with an eastern distribution. Whereas populations generally belong to either one or the other mitochondrial clade, the Romanian population contains both clades. The bears in the Brenta belong to the western clade. The implications for the management of brown bears in the Brenta and elsewhere in Europe are discussed.