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Animal welfare Making captivity a bit more bearable for bears

Many zoos in Switzerland keep bears in captivity in conditions that are not always ideal. In the French-speaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, the only bear in the zoo receives special attention.

The bear has been extinct in Switzerland for more than a century: the last individual was killed in 1904 in canton Graubünden. A few individuals have made sporadic appearances in recent years but have not settled down permanently in the country.

Despite the absence of wild bears, the animal occupies a special place in the hearts of the Swiss people. It gave its name to the capital Bern (Bärn in Swiss-German dialect is derived from the word Bär which means bear). Many zoos have them but they seldom offer enough space to ensure a good quality of life. Several zoos have changed their practices in recent years. For example, the city of Bern has replaced its historic "bear pit" with a 6000m2 enclosure on the river bank.

For its part, the Parc du Bois du Petit-Château in La Chaux-de-Fonds has decided not to showcase the species in the future. Two brown bears had been kept at the zoo since the early 1990s. The female, Leila, had to be euthanized in 2016, leaving her companion Haydibay, who will be 32 years old this year, alone. His enclosure is up to standard but is not ideal. The park is trying to find a better environment in another zoo to allow the animal to be comfortable in old age. In the meantime, the keepers do their best to make his life as pleasant as possible: they often visit him, prepare enriched meals that encourage natural foraging behaviour and make him do daily exercises.


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