BERN––The Dahlholzli Zoo in Bern, the Swiss city named for bears, and infamous for centuries of exhibiting bears in pits, on June 25, 2014 reignited controversy over zoo culling practices by announcing that the remains of a healthy young bear called Cub 4 would be thawed after two months on ice and taxidermically mounted.
“When it was observed that the mother, Masha, had begun neglecting Cub 4 and that the father was roughing him up too, zoo staff decided in April that it would be kinder to kill the youngster,” reported Laura Smith-Spark and Ben Brumfield of CNN.
“The hide has been separated from the body and will be tanned and the body measured for a mold. Explaining the process, the zoo said it considers it central to learning that animals are experienced in as natural a condition as possible,” Smith-Spark and Brumfield continued.
Said a Dahlholzli Zoo media release, “An emotional experience takes priority, which brings nature closer to the children with all its facets –– ‘nice’ or not –– and makes them tangible.”
Recalled Smith-Spark and Brumfield, “The daily newspaper Berner Zeitung reported in April that the zoo had received a flood of public comment after Cub 4 was killed. Criticism of the zoo focused on the fact that the adult bears involved were hand-raised –– suggesting that their cubs could have been raised that way too.”
“Bears are loners,” Swiss Animal Protection wildlife department chief Sara Wehrli told Berner Zeitung, “and in zoos, there are already too many brown bears. Letting the parents mate was wrong. You can’t leave wild animals in captivity to ‘nature.’ Whoever keeps them must take responsibility for them.”
Cub 4 was culled soon after the Copenhagen Zoo on February 9, 2014 ignited a global furor by killing a healthy young giraffe named Marius, who was then the subject of a public necropsy. On March 25, 2014 Copenhagen Zoo chief executive Steffen Straede disclosed that his staff had also killed two older lionesses and their two 10-month-old cubs to prepare for introducing a new male lion to the exhibit.
The Copenhagen Zoo killings brought to light that the Longleat Safari Park on the Marquess of Bath’s estate in Wiltshire, United Kingdom, had in January 2014 quietly killed a lion named Henry, a lioness named Louisa, and four of her cubs.
Explained an anonymous Longleat spokesperson, “There has been a large increase in pregnancies among the lions, resulting in a 40% increase in population. This has resulted in excessive violent behavior, putting 21 of them at risk.”
Opened in 1937, the Dahlholzli Zoo is not to be confused with the infamous Bern bear pits, closed in 2009 after six to eight centuries as the city’s best-known feature. There is, however, a working relationship between the Dahlholzi Zoo and the bear park that replaced the bear pits.
The Cronica de Berno, the earlier known history of Bern, compiled in 1309, recorded that Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen, founded the first settlement at the present Bern location in 1191, about two miles from a long abandoned Roman fort. Two years later, according to legend, Berthold vowed to name the growing community after the first animal he killed on a hunt.
Bears appeared on the Bern city seal and in the Bern coat of arms before 1230. Live bears are known to have been exhibited in the Bärengraben since circa 1440, but how and where the first bears were kept was not recorded.
“Bern’s bear pit dates back to at least 1513, when the chronicler Valerius Anshelm described the Bernese Army’s return from a military victory with a living bear as booty. The animal was put in the defensive trench along the city walls,” reported Associated Press writer Bradley S. Klapper in May 2009. “A new pit was created in 1764 just outside the city’s former limits, and as many as a dozen bears have lived in the deep space more or less since then, as the city has expanded around it. The pit was empty for a dozen years,” Klapper added, “when Napoleon occupied Bern in 1798 and shipped the city’s bears to Paris. It was briefly empty again in 1853, when a family of French bears died out and new ones were imported, and during modifications in 1974-1975 when the bears were housed elsewhere.”
Bear pit manager Walter Bosshard in April 2009 had the last pit resident, Pedro, 28, euthanized due to severe and incurable arthritis. The bear habitat was then expanded from the former pit area to the Aare River, “giving bears the chance to roam over a wide expanse of greenery and catch fresh fish from the water. A wall in the river ensures they will not be able to swim away or be carried away by the current,” Klapper said.
The new bear park was stocked with two Scandinavian bears, Bjoerk and Finn, who were brought from the Dahlholzli Zoo in October 2009.
Wild bears were extirpated from Switzerland in the early 20th century, through the combination of trophy hunting with killing bears to protect livestock.
A two-year-old wild bear called M13 in 2012 entered the Graubuenden mountains, wandering into Switzerland from the Val Poschiavo region of Italy, where about 30 bears have been reintroduced. The Swiss Office for the Environment designated the Graubuenden bear “problematic” in November 2012. Rangers shot the bear in February 2013.
(See also “Giraffe killing in Copenhagen brings zoo culling to global notice,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-7P, and “Steve Graham defends Copenhagen Zoo giraffe killing,” http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/14/steve-graham-d…iraffe-killing/ .)