If all goes to plan, Swiss mountain resort Arosa will soon have a park for rescued bears.
The canton of Graubünden has approved a change in zoning laws to allow for construction of the park, called Arosa Bear Countryexternal link. The authorities announced the decision on Thursday.
Last November, 78% of Arosa voters agreed to the project, which would provide a home for bears rescued by animal welfare organization Four Pawsexternal link. Measuring nearly 30,000 square meters, the enclosure would house half a dozen bears at the edge of the resort’s skiing area.
“If there are no objections raised by next week’s deadline, we can begin construction at the end of July and open the park the following summer,” Pascal Jenny, head of Arosa Tourism and co-project leader, told swissinfo.ch. “It would be a great thing for us. With an attraction like this, hopefully people would be more likely to visit us in summer.” As many as 80,000 visitors per year are expected at the sanctuary, which would double as an educational facility.
Jenny pointed out that summer tourism was key considering that global warming was a threat to Arosa’s ski season. The planning and construction budget for Arosa Bear Country is estimated at CHF4 million ($4.1 million) and the annual operating costs at CHF320,000 – with financing covered by Four Paws and sponsors.
Bears on the move
Over the years Four Paws has rescued more than 90 bears from inhumane conditions and placed them in sanctuaries in Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo and Ukraine. The bears going to Arosa will likely come from southern or southwestern Europe.
There are no wild bears living in Switzerland. The last was shot down in Graubünden in 1904. Today there are about 50 brown bears living in the Italian, Austrian and Slovenian Alps, where the conditions are generally good for them.
Since 2005, several bears have wandered from Italy to Graubünden in southern Switzerland, but none has remained – except for M13, who roamed between Italy, Austria and Switzerland before being declared a “problem” bear and shot down.
Earlier this month, a bear was spotted several times in the Swiss National Park near the Italian border. It’s not clear whether the bear – believed to be a young male and pictured below – is still there.