6 min read

Swiss Zoo Euthanizes Healthy Bear Cub To Prevent It From Being Killed

Less than a week after one of two young bear cubs was killed by its father at a zoo in Switzerland, keepers there have taken measures to ensure that the other youngster doesn't meet that same fate -- by euthanizing it.

Last Wednesday, the Dählhölzli zoo in Bern came under fire after Misha, an 800-pound male Russian brown bear on display there attacked and ate one of his three-month-old offspring, called Baby Bear 3. Despite the fact that the bear had exhibited aggression towards the cubs before, the zoo had decided to allow the young animals to remain with both their parents in the enclosure.

Even after that sad, likely preventable incident, zoo director Bernd Schildger refused to separate Misha from the remaining cub, dubbed Baby Bear 4, arguing that doing so would lead to "massive behavioral disorders" as it grew into adulthood.

"I stand by the decision," he told the newspaper Berner Zeitung, claiming that the zoo sought to make conditions as natural as possible, even if that meant exposing the cub to danger.

"We are upset about the death by bear 3 and affected," writes the zoo (translation via Bing). "The second cub "4" seems to be doing well. The bears decide how it goes."

While the move to keep the animals together sparked criticism from animal activists, it wasn't long before Dählhölzli staff opted to end the living-arrangement -- but not simply by separating them. On Monday, the zoo announced that it had decided to euthanize Baby Bear 4 to end the "distress and pain" it was suffering while sharing an enclosure with Misha.

"Unfortunately Misha has behaved similarly aggressively in the last two days against the second young bear as in cub 3," writes the zoo.

The zoo says that Misha, and his mate Masha -- gifts from Russia's former-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 -- were hand raised and had not learned how to properly care for their own young.

Sara Wehrli, head of the Swiss Animal Protection group, says that the zoo acted carelessly by not protecting the bear cubs from their father's aggression -- calling the claims that they were trying to recreate a natural environment "irresponsible."

"Bears are solitary animals and need space," she tells Berner Zeitung.

This isn't the first time a healthy captive animal has been destroyed at the hands of the facility which oversaw its birth. Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Zoo's decision to kill a healthy young giraffe, named Marius, sparked international outrage while bringing to light what is said to be a common practice in zoos. A little more than a month later, the same zoo also killed four healthy lions, including two young cubs.

Correction: An earlier version of this post identified the animals as Russian black bears, when they are in fact Russian brown bears.

According to European Association of Zoos and Aquaria director Lesley Dickie, between 3,000 and 5,000 healthy animals are euthanized in zoos across Europe every year -- a practice, critics say, that is ultimately focused more on preserving zoos' bottom line than ensuring the well-being of the animals they house.

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