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His­tory

Bern coat of armsThe ori­gin of the name of the City of Bern is uncer­tain. Many peo­ple believe that Bern means bears. Local leg­end has it that Berthold V (11681218), Duke of Zährin­gen and the founder of the city, vowed to name the city after the first ani­mal he met on the hunt. As this turned out to be a bear, the city acquired its name and its coat of arms with this heraldic beast. On the other hand it has long been con­sid­ered likely that the city was named after the Ital­ian city of Verona, which at the time was known as Bern in Mid­dle High German.

But a leg­end is always more intrigu­ing, so the con­nec­tion with bears was made and bears have been kept in Bern since 1513. Up until 1857 they were in the city itself, then in the bear pit and, from 2009, in the Bear Park. The early bear pits in the city had to move because of increas­ing traf­fic. The cur­rent bear pit, at the Nydeg­g­brücke (Nydegg bridge) near the river­side, is the fourth enclo­sure in the city since bears were held in a pit. It was opened on May 27, 1857. About a dozen bears lived in these his­toric bear pits which do not resem­ble the one in the pic­ture City of Bern bear pit. At the time they were smaller and had only a sin­gle dead tree in the mid­dle, while the pic­ture shows a com­pletely ren­o­vated pit. The bear pit was com­pletely ren­o­vated from 1994 to 1996 to improve con­di­tions for the bears, but still it remained a pit. There­fore, today, the brown bears are kept in the adja­cent Bear Park – the large uphill bear enclo­sure on the river bank. Both the bear pit and the Bear Park are now run and main­tained by Bern Zoo.

The first plan for a zoo with pre­dom­i­nantly Euro­pean species in the city of Bern was devel­oped in 1871 by a group of oppor­tunis­tic enthu­si­asts who founded a Soci­ety for Accli­ma­ti­sa­tion. Two years later, their plan was dropped for a lack of share­hold­ers. Nonethe­less a park for deer and Euro­pean bison was cre­ated on the slope below the Bier­hü­beli (Beer Hill) a well-​known pub­lic house in Bern at the time, and nowa­days a con­cert hall.

As the park did not meet the expec­ta­tions, new loca­tions were sought — among oth­ers in Dählhöl­zli. They even thought of aban­don­ing the focus on native species and cre­ate a zoo with exotic ani­mals. All attempts failed, how­ever, for var­i­ous rea­sons but one of them was a lack of funds. Thanks to William Gabus (18471901), the financ­ing issue could be resolved. The well-​to-​do watch­maker left CHF 150,000 to the city of Bern for the con­struc­tion of a zoo­log­i­cal park, “if pos­si­ble in Dählhöl­zli,” accord­ing the testament.

In 1918, the City was able to acquire the Elfe­nau park on the south­ern out­skirts of Bern. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing years this site became the prime area for devel­op­ing a zoo­log­i­cal gar­den. How­ever, progress was slow. Only when in 1930 the Zoo Soci­ety Bern was founded, which already had more than 1800 mem­bers two years later, things started to move. With a lot of enthu­si­asm and with­out com­pro­mise already in 1933 the Soci­ety was able to sub­mit a draft plan for build­ing a zoo, while pre­serv­ing the beau­ti­ful land­scape of the Elfe­nau. Nev­er­the­less, the local com­mu­nity who wanted to leave the Elfe­nau untouched, protested against the plan. A change of loca­tion was sug­gested and in March 1935 the new plan was accepted by the Bern cit­i­zens in a ref­er­en­dum. The new Zoo was to be devel­oped in the Dählhöl­zli woods close to the river Aare.

On 5 June 1937 the Zoo was opened to the pub­lic. After being led for a year by vet­eri­nar­ian Dr. Paul Badertscher, the young zool­o­gist Dr. Heini Hedi­ger was appointed direc­tor in 1938. Hedi­ger soon became famous as an expert in ani­mal psy­chol­ogy and ani­mal hus­bandry. In his book ‘Wild Ani­mals in Cap­tiv­ity, an Out­line of the Biol­ogy of Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­dens,’ he relied to a great extent on his expe­ri­ences in Bern Zoo, now called Tier­park Dählhöl­zli. Hedi­ger steered the Zoo through the dif­fi­cult pre-​war time with its short­ages of both food and ani­mals. Already dur­ing WWII, how­ever, Hedi­ger left, first to head Basel and sub­se­quently Zurich Zoo.

Hediger’s suc­ces­sor in 1943, Dr. Monika Meyer-​Holzapfel, whose exper­tise in endan­gered and locally extinct fauna suited the Zoo’s mis­sion, was in charge when many impor­tant mile­stones were achieved. Besides the increase of the ani­mal col­lec­tion and sub­se­quently the num­ber of enclo­sures, the breed­ing suc­cesses attracted the inter­est of the pro­fes­sion­als in the world of zoos. Nowa­days breed­ing of many species in zoos is rou­tine, but in those days suc­cess­ful breed­ing of otters, wild­cats, lynxes, Euro­pean bisons, wolves, kestrels, black grouse, and wood grouse was rare. In fact, of most men­tioned species indi­vid­u­als were suc­cess­fully released in the wild which made it even more excep­tional. Fur­ther­more, much progress was achieved in the nour­ish­ment of species that were noto­ri­ous dif­fi­cult to keep in cap­tiv­ity, such as rein­deer, roe deer and elk. All this was done with only seven keep­ers who cared for 1675 ani­mals from 335 species, of which 23 species were mammalian.

The zoo entered a period of exten­sion in the mid 1970s. Large pad­docks were built for herds of Prze­wal­sky horses (which were bred very suc­cess­fully), back­crossed ‘aurochs’, rein­deer, and musk ox. A car­ni­vore house for small native preda­tors was con­structed, while mar­mots, beavers, and even seals arrived. As part of the Zoo’s con­ser­va­tion activ­i­ties endan­gered species, such as sika deer, Syr­ian brown bears, Per­sian leop­ards, maned wolves, and Amur tigers were pur­chased, although these did not fit into the Zoo’s focus on Euro­pean indige­nous species. The num­ber of mam­mal species increased to 60 which included the most com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of Euro­pean fauna.

Already from the begin­ning parts of the Zoo were acces­si­ble for free, while an admis­sion fee was charged for the Vivar­ium sec­tion. In the 1980s the Vivar­ium, had to undergo urgent ren­o­va­tions. An exten­sive refur­bish­ment pro­gramme of CHF 12 mil­lion was started. New envi­ron­men­tal friendly tech­nol­ogy was used mod­ernising the Vivar­ium, while a large glass hall was added with open top ter­rar­i­ums embed­ded in a trop­i­cal set­ting. Addi­tion­ally, a seal pool was con­structed, and mixed-​species aviaries were designed. In sup­port of the change in atti­tude of zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens regard­ing their func­tion the first Swiss zoo edu­ca­tion cen­tre was established.

Fur­ther improve­ment of the enclo­sures mate­ri­alised in the 1990s when all the out­door enclo­sures were designed accord­ing the lat­est stan­dards to match the needs and enrich the lives of the ani­mals. A new children’s zoo, where kids could learn how to inter­act with ani­mals, was opened in 1995. The aquatic bird col­lec­tion was reduced to Euro­pean avi­fauna includ­ing Euro­pean flamingo and Dal­ma­t­ian pel­i­cans. Though on the other hand there was a trend to intro­duce more exotic mam­mals – such as wal­laby, capy­bara and Mala­gasay species.

Together with a reduc­tion in the num­ber of species and the estab­lish­ment of animal-​friendly habi­tats, a new mis­sion state­ment was intro­duced to mark a new era for keep­ing ani­mals in cap­tiv­ity:
“More space for less ani­mals” — For the wel­fare of ani­mals and the plea­sure of people!

(Source: Ency­clo­pe­dia of the World’s Zoos, Ed. Catharine E. Bell, 2001; web­site Tier­park Bern; Wikipedia)

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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