My travels are now truly underway and after a whirlwind weekend in luxurious Geneve, I’m now in Bern. Unlike the fresh sights of Geneve, I’m no stranger to Bern, having visited for an afternoon a few years ago.
The first stop on my ‘must-see’ check list this morning was the Bern bear enclosure. I had previously been before on my last trip, and it was the highlight of Bern for both me and my sister. An adorable trio of fluffy bears available to see up close in person. What’s not to like?
I am undoubtedly an animal lover through and through. Horses, dogs, cats, pigs – I adore and respect them all. They are all beautiful, intelligent and intuitive creatures. I’m a recent vegan and very proud to be so. Thus… seeing such beautiful animals confined to a small and limited space was quite distressful. Why should these majestic animals be sentenced to a life of inprisonment for the sheer selfishness of tourism? It just felt wrong to me.
I understand that culturally, the enclosure is very significant to Bern. Their residence stems from as far back as 1513. The bear symbol has long served as part of the city’s heritage. According to local legend, in 1191, Duke Berthold V of Zähringen vowed to choose as namesake the first animal his hunt met in the wood that was to be chopped down for his new city. No prizes for guessing what animal that was.
Fairy tales aside, the new enclosure makes the animals’ previous lodgings look like a five star resort. The bears were in fact kept in a squalid pit up until 2009 – before enough people and organisations such as PETA complained for a significant change to happen.
The pit still exists and is available for visitors to gawp at. It is as bare and pathetic as it sounds. A tiny stone pit for three large bears. The idea of it makes me sick, if I am honest. Imagine your family pet being locked in a filthy cage for its entire life whilst you take pictures and smile happily behind the bars. 500 years of injustice.
All animals deserve a happy and freedom filled life. Whilst Finn, Bjork and Ursina now have more space (5,000sqft to be exact) real forestry and water to play in, it is a sad excuse for the true space and sanctuary these omnivorous creatures deserve.
Seaworld has recently been barred from breeding any further whales in captivity. It’s time zoos and attractions such as this followed suit. Switzerland is a neutral country… So why is there still blind inhumanity in its borders?
Legend or not, tourism magnet or not, ‘family fun’ or not, Bern’s Bärengraben cannot help but make me question the true animals of this otherwise idyllic town.