More space for fewer animals®

The tradition of keeping bears in Bern

The city of Bern's relationship with its heraldic animal goes back many years. Legend has it that a bear was the first animal to be caught by city founder Berchtold V. von Zähringen during a hunting expedition in the area, and that he city owes its name to this.

The Bernese chronicler Valerius Anshelm described in 1513 how the Bernese returned home victorious from the Battle of Novara, carrying both the captured standards and a living bear as spoils of war in their triumphal procession. It was kept in the city moat in front of the Käfigturm (Cage Tower).

The first bear pit remained at what is still called the Bärenplatz (Bear Square), until it had to be moved in 1764 because of traffic problems. It was relocated to the Schanzengraben (Moat) in Bollwerk, in front of the gateway to the city.

Bear pit 1857 to 2009

The final, still visible bear pit is the fourth enclosure in the city. It was opened on May 27, 1857. Twelve or more bears were intermittently kept in the 3.5 metre deep pit. Between 1994 and 1996, this historic enclosure, a monument of national importance, was completely renovated to improve conditions for the bears.

A ridge made of sandstone blocks increased the angle of the slope. Other blocks provided for shady and sunny areas, caves and rock faces were for climbing. There were pools for the bears to swim in, play and cool down. There was a water gutter, reminiscent of the previous dividing wall in the pit.

The old concrete floor was replaced with a gravel and sand surface, so that the bears could dig holes to lie in, so they could warm up or cool down in the moist soil. The floor soon became green. Moss and lichen grew over the stone blocks and wild plants grew through the cracks.

In spite of these improvements, the enclosure remained a 'pit'. Numerous complaints from Switzerland and abroad, as well as new legal requirements, prompted a radical rethink of how bears should be kept in Bern.

Bear 'Pedro' in the old bear pit