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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

The Bear Incident

Last weekend, reports quickly appeared on Twitter and Facebook, and thence to the local and international press, that a member of the public had apparently jumped over the fence into the new bear enclosure alongside the river Aare in Bern. As one would expect, the bear attacked the man as an intruder to his domain, mauling him about the head and causing quite severe injury. As more details came through, it became clear that the police had only been able to distract the bear – Finn, who only moved in with his sister Björk recently – by shooting and wounding him. The expected commentary ensued, ranging from calling the man an idiot to rather less polite terms of disapproval; not least from an animal rights point of view, particularly when the press began reporting that Finn was fairly seriously injured by the police and was in danger of losing his life.

As is so often the case in modern times, people tend to judge first, well before they know even a little more than the basic aspects of the case. I am one of the guilty ones, thinking that the man was just an idiot, out to make a scene or gain some kind of notoriety. As news website SwissInfo.org reports, much of the concern so far this week has been for the bear, though, rather than the man.

As it turns out, further details have come to light over the course of the week indicating that the man is in fact mentally disabled and was making one of his regular visits to Bern, on which he’d previously managed perfectly well without supervision. On this instance, he’d accidentally dropped a carrier bag containing some of his own artwork into the bears’ enclosure and climbed in to retrieve it; probably unaware of the danger he was in.

Previous residents of the bear pits in Bern, Tana and Pedro. Photo by Marco Amstutz, via Wikimedia Commons.

The old concrete bear pits, which date back to 1887, were succeeded this year (at last and at great expense) by a re-built section of open park land next to the adjacent river, to the approval of pretty much everyone. The new compound is a much welcome addition to the city and one which means that it’s now possible to visit the bears without feeling immense sorrow, which tended to be the overwhelming feeling one had when seeing Finn and Björk’s predecessors. The two pits are now no longer being used for the bears: the larger is currently empty, save for concrete climbing blocks and a stagnant pool of water, while the smaller of the two now forms part of the bear park’s new visitor centre.

Late afternoon at the Bear Park in Bern