In the Czech Republic, there are still several forms of inappropriate bear keeping. Bears suffer from poor conditions in substandard zoos, in private keeping and in circuses. Since 2022, there has been a ban on the breeding and acquisition of all wild animal species in circuses in the Czech Republic. This is a significant step forward and will prevent a lot of animal suffering in the future. Nevertheless, circus operators are allowed to keep wild animals such as bears born or obtained before the legal ban came into force (according to the so-called 'grandfather clause').
Abused for the sake of tradition: Bears in castle moats
Furthermore, bears are being confined in ancient castle moats, apparently based on the belief that this 'tradition' originating from the Middle Ages is still worth continuing today. However, these keepings justify a lot of criticism and serious concerns for animal welfare. Especially the keeping of bears in the moat of Český Krumlov castle – a famous tourist hotspot and listed by UNESCO as world heritage – has been addressed to FOUR PAWS and other animal welfare organisations numerous times in recent years.
Lack of space, natural environment and security
From FOUR PAWS' point of view the keeping of bears in such castle moats serves commercial interests only. A castle moat can never meet the requirements of a species-appropriate brown bear enclosure, especially with regard to size, security and structure. Keeping bears in mostly concrete moats deprives the animals of any possibility to follow their species-specific behaviour. The enclosures are usually far too small and cannot meet the natural bears’ natural needs. Due to historic preservation requirements, there are often hardly any possibilities for enlargement or major construction works. Also, these enclosures are not only often poorly structured only, but also lack the stimulation from a natural environment and enrichment. Moreover, due to the location of the enclosures in the deep moats and pits of (medieval) castles, the bears usually just stare at the barren stone walls only.
Bears kept in castle moats have limited possibilities to run, climb and dig, and often lack the ability to retreat from heat, rain or other influences like visitor noise or the artificial lighting of the historic monument in the night. There are hardly any options for undisturbed hibernation. The above-mentioned inappropriate keeping conditions and the lack of stimulation results in stereotypical behaviour, such as constant pacing back and forth or walking in circles.
A crucial point is also the security aspect: The facilities can often be accessed by the public 24/7 and there is a lack of surveillance, thus posing a significant risk to the animals and visitors.
Keeping bears in castle moats does not only violate animal welfare standards but also gives visitors a false image of species-appropriate animal husbandry. From FOUR PAWS' point of view, bears should be kept in compliance with science-based animal keeping standards, and in accredited zoos and sanctuaries only.
Help for the Saddest Bears in Czech Republic
These concerns have already been addressed to the responsible authorities by FOUR PAWS and other animal welfare organisations, with the aim to end the keeping of bears in castle moats entirely. Solutions for the remaining bears can be offered in sanctuaries abroad.