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It’s a girl! Clitoris clinches bear sex debate

Urs, one of two young European brown bears in Bern’s bear park, is dead. Long live Ursina!

This content was published on November 2, 2010 - 14:50
swissinfo.ch and agencies

A clinical examination has revealed that the 70kg cub – until now considered male – does in fact have a clitoris, the sexual organ present only in female mammals.

Vets had given Ursina, as she will now be known, and her twin sister Berna a general anaesthetic so they could be fitted with a security chip. Since bears generally take exception to people rummaging around their genitals, the vets took this opportunity to confirm their gender once and for all.

The confusion began in July, when an initial examination of the then eight-month bears – the star attractions at the Swiss capital’s new bear park – revealed a “penis-like structure” on Ursina.

While that vet got it wrong, the bears’ mother, Björk, appears to have known the gender of her offspring all along.

The good news of this “sex change” is that since mother bears reject their female cubs later than male cubs, the park owners have a bit more time to find Ursina and Berna a new home.

In August talk of culling them as a last resort prompted a public outcry but animal experts played down the move, saying it may be the “logical” way forward.

Bern’s zoo currently has two sets of bear cubs, but because of their different breeds they cannot be kept together. Ursina and Berna had already been conceived by the time two other cubs, Mongolian brown bears Misha and Mascha, were given to the city of Bern by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his wife on a visit to Switzerland.

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