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Aktualisiert Januar 2005


Tierpark Bern

Hinweis: Dies ist die akzeptierte Endversion von Anfang 2000 des Artikel in der im Juli 2001 erschienen “Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos”, Fitzroy Dearborn Verlag, Chicago. Die tatsächlich erschienene Version enthält Änderungen der Redaktion

Note: The following portrait is the essay submitted for the “encyclopedia of the world´s zoos”, published in mid 2001. Please note that this is the pre-edit  version, not the one that was finally printed.

Berne Zoo (Städtischer Tierpark Dählhölzli Bern)

 Dählhölzli is a communal zoo covering 16 hectares. Some 200.000 visitors annually pay to visit the large vivarium, while most parts of the zoo can be visited for free. Lead by Dr. Bernd Schildger, it is most renowned for breeding delicate and endangered European species, but now also concentrates on Madagascar.

 "Bern" means "bears", Berne's heraldic animals, as legend tells Berchtold killed a bear where he founded the city. Bear pits have existed here at least since 1414. The fourth and newest one originates in 1857. Until the mid of the 20th century, a bear guild cultivated a strong tradition which included yearly slaughter of surplus bears to eat particularly the paws in a ceremony. Some dozen bears used to live in deep enclosures with only a single dead tree. Today, the bear pit is affiliated to the zoo and was completely renovated in 1996. Endangered Pyrenean brown bears are kept in a more natural surrounding.

 After many failed efforts, a small wildlife park was set up in 1877. Promoter William Gabus gave a legacy in 1900 to create a zoo, but as late as 1930 a society was founded (supporting the zoo until today). In a referendum, as usual in Switzerland, a total of 6532 citizens supported a zoo, while only 780 objected.

 When the zoo opened on 5 June 1937 at Dählhölzli, a wooded hillside overlooking river Aare, it was designated for native fauna exclusively. American bisons from the liquidated wildlife park were the only exotics. Much attention was paid to Alpine ibex, in those days reputed difficult to keep. Dählhölzli became the third breeding station in Switzerland for this characteristic animal. Just a few decades ago it had been reintroduced to Switzerland after being locally extinct for more than 100 years. Center of the zoo became the vivarium, featuring an aquarium shaped as a ship hull, and a terrarium with crocodiles, that soon also housed tropical birds like parrots in small cages.

 Young zoologist Dr. Heini Hediger was appointed director. He initiated scientific studies and, for instance, discovered super-foetation in hares. That is, females become pregnant again before giving birth to the previous litter. Being an animal psychologist, he gathered experience in wild animal husbandry to write the first of his famous books about zoo biology in 1942. Hediger steered the zoo through the difficult pre-war time with its shortage of food and animals, but then left to head Basle and Zurich zoo, subsequently.

 Dr. Monika Meyer-Holzapfel, succeeding Hediger, specialized in endangered or locally extinct fauna, like wolves that vanished from Switzerland in the 19th century. European otters were difficult to keep in those days, but many lived in the zoo's surroundings. Nowadays, breeding is routine (not least because of Berne's experience), while only few are left in the wild. Lynx and wild cats were propagated for releasing in later years, and subsequently Berne zoo also contributed to restocking projects of hares, kestrels, black grouse, and wood grouse. From 1959, wisents were kept. Much progress in the difficult nourishment for the roe deer family was made, like reindeer, roe, and moose, of which numerous breeding was recorded. By then, only seven keepers cared for 1675 animals from 335 species, but only 23 species of mammals.

 Dr. Hannes Sägesser arrived to lead the zoo during the extension phase of the mid 1970s. Successively, large paddocks for a herd of Przewalsky horses (which bred very successfully), back-crossed "aurochs", reindeer, and musk ox were built. A small carnivore house was constructed, while several martens, marmots, beavers, badgers, and even seals arrived. To support preservation of endangered species, Balkansian wolves, Vietnamese sika deer, Persian leopards, maned wolves, and Siberian tigers were purchased, although not fitting into the native animal concept. A breeding group of Cyprus mouflon arrived. Extraordinary propagation success was achieved with Alpine mountain hare, chamois, hoopoe, and several species of grouse (including capercaille, hazel hen, and ptarmigan). Moreover, keeping of wild stem forms of domestic animals was intensified, like grayleg goose, Cretan wild goat, and wild boar. Rare breeds, for example Swiss black-nosed sheep and Chinese cashmere goat, moved into the Children's zoo. As late as 1979, a total feeding ban for visitors was introduced.

 Numbering some 60 species of mammals, by that time Dählhölzli had become the world's most comprehensive collection of European fauna. Special topic still is propagation of native venomous snakes. A large owl collection where many species breed, bearded and black vultures, several birds of prey, and Waldrapp ibis are on display, as are many unusual, native songbirds like crossbill, bearded titmouse, and Alpine chough.

 In the 1980s the vivarium had to undergo urgent renovations. Again, in a referendum 87% of Berne's citizens pleaded for a SFR 12 million project that uses environmental friendly technology. While the New Building style was maintained, a large glass hall was added with open terraria embedded in a tropical setting. Here reptiles, amphibians, and insects are displayed, including giant termites that meanwhile have built a mount several meters high. The aquarium section features marine and freshwater life, while native fish from mountain springs to lakes can be seen in outdoor ponds through underwater windows. Additionally, a meandering seal pool was constructed, and multi-species habitat aviaries were designed.

 A new children's zoo, where kids can learn how to work with animals, was opened in 1995 during the directorate of Dr. Max Müller. The aquatic bird collection was reduced to European avifauna (including European flamingo and Dalmatian pelicans). In a landscaped enclosure, featuring a glassed pool with trouts, Syrian brown bears live together with wolverines.

 When Dr. Bernd Schildger, a veterinarian from Frankfurt zoo, was appointed director, planning was underway for a more natural design of the outdoor enclosures, using real and artificial Nagelfluh rocks. At the steep hillsides, ungulates like the breeding Rocky Mountain goats had caused severe erosion. Along the Aare river, the water areas were renaturated, and even guinea pigs now live in rocky grassland full of burrows. Racoon dogs and racoons share a huge new hillside enclosure. In the mountain enclosures, concrete is being replaced by rockwork and plantings.

 A new type of climatic controlled terraria was introduced, in which not only all parameter can be adjusted separately (like heating, cooling, watering, ultrasonic mist, and daylight regime), but also visitors can read those data in specially designed information displays. The first was set up for highly endangered tomato frogs, illustrating the new focal point Madagascar. Vasa parrots and votsotsas (giant jumping rats) are also kept and bred.

 For marginated tortoise, Europe's biggest reptile, recently a 100 m² open-air terrarium was constructed resembling Mediterranean landscape with Greek island vegetation and a donkey path running through. Under two meters of gravel substrate lies a hibernation cave. The public is informed by interactive plates and models, as all the park is fitted with a new information system, including Braille and comic-like signposting. Currently, an extensive parasite prophylactics research program is carried out, as well as a zoonosis survey for Swiss zoos. Apart from the vivarium section, admission is still free.

 Concentrating on endangered species both native and exotic, the zoo's experience in propagation is widely renowned. Currently, it takes part in 21 breeding programmes. Almost completely renovated to underline its beautiful location, Dählhölzli zoo has to be named amongst the most important zoos in Central Europe.

Dirk Petzold


    Tierpark Dählhölzli
    Tierparkweg 1
    CH-3005 Bern
    Telephone: +41-31-357-1515
    Fax: +41-31-357-1510


  • Dr. Paul Badertscher (acting director, 1937)
  • Dr. Heini Hediger (1938-1943)
  • Dr. Monika Meyer-Holzapfel (1943-1969)
  • Dr. Hannes Sägesser (1970-1991)
  • Dr. Max Müller (1991-1996)
  • Dr. Bernd-J. Schildger (1997-)

Journals and Member Magazines / Newsletters

    Uhu -- Journal of the Zoo Society (1980-)

Further Reading

Dollinger, Peter et al., "Zoonoses surveillance and safeguard measures in Swiss zoos," Proceedings EAZWV conference, Chester, 1998

Hediger, Heini, Wild animals in captivity. An Outline of the Biology of Zoological Gardens, New York: Dover Publications, 1964

Hediger, Heini, Man and animal in the zoo, London: New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974

Meyer-Holzapfel, Monika, Tierpark Dählhölzli, Bern: Paul Haupt, 1962 (Berner Heimatbücher No. 84)

Sägesser, Hannes and Klaus Robin, Das Dählhölzli im Spiegel seiner Tiere, Bern: Stämpfli, 1987

Schildger, Bernd, "Tortoise enclosure at Berne," EAZA News 23, 1998


 Encyclopedia of the World’s Zoos
Hunderte ausführlicher, bebilderter Zoo-Portraits, Arten- und Artengruppen-Darstellungen und allgemeine Artikel wechseln einander ab. Die seitenlange Liste der Autoren wimmelt nur so von großen Namen.
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers Chicago 2001, 1600 S.,
3 Bände, gebunden, um 330 Euro
leider meist vergriffen, Verlag in Konkurs