You may not readily associate bears with the country of Switzerland, but the ursa is actually the namesake and symbol of the Swiss capital, Bern. (If you have ever eaten Toblerone chocolate, which is produced in Bern, you may have noticed the bear in the logo). Its coat of arms also features a bear.
So, then, you may be surprised to know that no bear has lived wild in Swiss terrain since 1904 (with one recent exception, but he was killed last year). There just isn’t enough room for these creatures to live successfully alongside humanity.
To keep the memory of Bern’s history alive, the capital city has housed bears for several centuries. In the 19th century, Bern opened its Bärengraben which is, quite literally, a bear pit. A hole in the ground. Captivity. For animal enthusiasts, very controversial. While, yes, it had a small pond and dead trees to scratch, onlookers generally pitied the bears who had such little space. Some malicious souls would even throw garbage in to see if the bears would eat it…
In 2009, Bern opened Bärenpark, an extension to the pit. This addition actually makes me feel better for the bears who inhabit the place. While still on display to the public, they have much more room to frolic and just be bears.
If you find yourself in Bern, I do recommend a short stop at the Bear Park on your way up the hill to the Rosengarten.