An incident in the Goldau nature and animal park ended fatally for the bear Laila (31). The zoo calls the attacker's behavior “natural”. Reno Sommerhalder explains why this would not have happened in the wild.

Bear Laila (31) had to be put down on Thursday after an incident in the Goldau Nature and Animal Park.

«In the wild such an incident would not have happened»

Bär Takis (14) and Laila clashed because of an open slider. All attempts to separate the animals failed. Laila had to be euthanized due to her injuries.

«In the wild such an incident would not have happened»

Criticism of bear keeping is now being raised: “Keeping bears in captivity can never be species-appropriate. It doesn't matter how conscientiously you try,» says bear researcher Reno Sommerhalder.

That's what it's all about:

  • In the Goldau Nature and Animal Park, a female had to be put to sleep after a fight between two bears.

  • Conservationist and bear researcher Reno Sommerhalder has now criticized keeping bears as unnatural.

  • He says that an enclosure can never replace the wild. This leads to disturbed behavior in captive animals.

After the seriously injured bear Laila (31) had to be euthanized in the Goldau Nature and Animal Park, criticism of bear keeping is now being voiced. “It wouldn't have happened like that in the wild,” bear expert Reno Sommerhalder is certain.

Last Thursday, an incident occurred in the stable while the bears were being fed. Due to an open valve, 14-year-old male Syrian brown bear Takis encountered female bear Laila and injured her so badly that she had to be euthanized.

An unnatural situation

Reno Sommerhalder has been observing bears in the wild for 35 years. It bothers him that the nature and animal park describes Taki's behavior as “natural”. In nature, an old bear that is no longer able to reproduce and thus no longer serves to preserve the species is attacked by her fellow bears to make room for younger animals, the zoo explained the incident. “The fact that females are killed by males because they are no longer ready to mate is absolutely not true,” disagrees Sommerhalder. There is no solid scientific evidence for this.

He has already observed in the wild that more dominant animals treat the older ones with a lot of respect. “Of course, bears get injured in the wild from time to time,” explains conservationist Sommerhalder. “But such aggressive incidents are rare in the wild.” Because the defeated bear always has the opportunity to escape in the wild, but not in the stable or in the enclosure.

Personal information

«In the wild such an incident would not have happened»

Reno Sommerhalder was born in Zurich in 1965. After training as a chef, he moved to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where he has been at home since 1986. Since emigrating, he has completed survival courses and wilderness guide exams. He has participated in wildlife studies and conducted behavioral research. In his 35 years as a bear researcher, Sommerhalder has already experienced thousands of encounters with wild animals and is considered an internationally recognized bear expert.

Enclosures cannot replace nature

For Sommerhalder, the incident is the result of an unnatural situation. “Keeping bears in captivity can never be species-appropriate. It doesn't matter how diligently you try,” he says. Because an enclosure simply cannot cover the biological needs of the animals. According to Sommerhalder, brown bears are highly intelligent animals with distinctive social behavior. In the wild, they live as loners in a territory of up to several thousand square kilometers. “In zoos and animal parks, the enclosures are too small for that,” he says. This leads to behavioral problems in the animals.

“The zoos in Europe are already overcrowded with brown bears,” says the bear researcher. He thinks it makes more sense to invest the energy and financial resources that go into wildlife parks to improve ecosystems and the future of bears in the wild.

That's what the zoo says

For Martin Wehrle, this criticism goes too far. He is a veterinarian at the Goldau Nature and Animal Park and says: “Species and nature conservation are very important to us. Our visitors are also informed and enlightened about these topics.» The fact that the incident could have happened at all despite many safety precautions was said to have been a fatal human error. “We're doing everything we can to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again,” says Wehrle. Additional safety measures are already in place.

Wehrle admits that such an incident can hardly happen in nature. “But that's because of Laila's old age.” In the wild, the bear wouldn't have lived to be 31 years old.

You know about an animal in need?

You can find help here:

Fire brigade, Tel. 118 (animal rescue)

Police, Tel. 117 (wild animals)

Animal rescue service, Tel. 044 211 22 22 (in emergencies)

Swiss animal reporting center if an animal has run away/run away

Foundation for the Animal in Law, for legal questions

GTRD, large animal rescue service, Tel. 079 700 70 70 ( Emergency call)

Swiss Ornithological Institute Sempach, for questions about wild birds, Tel. 041 462 97 00

Cruelty to animals:

Report to the cantonal veterinary office or to Swiss animal welfare (anonymously possible)

Your opinion

By Teresa Tapmleton

Teresa Tampleton has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Nizh TEkegram, Teresa Tampleton worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teresa@ntelegram.com 1-800-268-7341

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