Bears In Switzerland: They are Back, But Still A Problem

Eurasian brown bear

Switzerland has a long history with bears, which becomes obvious when you spend any time in canton Bern or the capital city old town.

This relationship is actually quite complex because Switzerland is now highly developed and there is little wide open space available for the bears or other local wildlife to roam.

History Of The Brown Bear In Switzerland

Brown bears used to roam freely in Switzerland up until the 1500s. This was a time when Switzerland was growing more rapidly and space was being used extensively for farming.

The brown bear population gradually declined in the north of the county until the 1800s when the last bears were spotted in the Northern Alps. There was of course less development in the southern regions, and the bears continued to live there for a while.

The cantons of Grisons and Tessin are far less populated and far wilder and the bears were living there until 1904. This was when the last known bear was killed in Switzerland. In 1923 there was another sighting, however, this was very fleeting and that bear was never seen again.

Given this, what is the situation with bears in Switzerland today?

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Reintroduction of Bears In The Alps

Later in the 20th century, a reintroduction program was started in Northern Italy between 1999 and 2002. This has meant that bears are more likely to be found close to the southern borders of Switzerland.

Not long after this project was started, the first brown bear was seen in Switzerland in 2005. I remember seeing this on the news and being a little shocked. After all, modern-day Switzerland is a land without brown bears. At least as far as the public was concerned.

Today, at least one brown bear is seen in Switzerland every year. Mostly in the southern cantons of Tessin and Grisons. As you would expect, being in the wild, mountainous Northern Italy border region. And, there is also the protected and very wild area in Eastern Switzerland where the Swiss National Park is located.

There have also been bears in eastern Switzerland and Germany, for example, two that were being tracked back in 2007. It is a very common occurrence nowadays, although I have never seen one in Switzerland myself!

Killing Of Bears In Switzerland

The challenge of bears coming into Switzerland today is that it is vastly more populated, farmed and visited than ever before. The population is not used to living with bears and often they interact with farm animals in ways that farmers cannot accept.

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It is a complex situation that no one has an easy solution to. Unfortunately, it has often led to brown bears being shot in Switzerland.

M13 – Switzerland’s Wild Bear

Back in 2011, there was a bear that came to live in Switzerland for a number of years. He was designated as M13 and followed carefully as he roamed about Switzerland, Italy and Austria.

The Swiss government was obviously concerned that he would enter human settlements and this happened finally in 2013. In order to safeguard the community around Pochiavo he was unfortunately shot.

The Bear Park In Bern

Of course, if you really want to see bears in Switzerland your best bet is the Bear Park in Bern. Here, three bears call Bern home, with a large open park area to roam, complete with their own swimming pool.

Sure, it is not the real wilds of Switzerland, but more like a mini-zoo just for bears. In a place that has been associated with bears for centuries!

Header image – Eurasian Brown Bear via Wikimedia

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FAQs

What kind of bears live in Switzerland?

Brown bears are sometimes found wild in Switzerland and are also easily seen in the warmer months in the Bern Bear Park.

Are there any wild bears in Switzerland?

Although the last wild bear was killed in Switzerland in 1904, wild bears have started to return to Switzerland. In 2005, the first wild bear was spotted in the south of Switzerland, and more have been seen since.

Are there any Grizzlies in Switzerland?

No, there are no Grizzly bears in Switzerland. Grizzly bears are not found on the European continent. Instead, a different, but very similar sub-species called the European brown bear can be found there.

Are there bears in Zurich?

There a currently no wild brown bears in canton Zurich, however, you can see captive brown bears in the Langenberg wildlife park.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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