Culture & Society Czech Republic News

Czech castle’s “outdated” bear-keeping tradition under scrutiny over wellbeing concerns

jirka-bear-konopiste-castle

Prague, Czech Republic – The strange behaviour of a bear living in the Konopiště castle moat has sparked concerns for its well-being and calls for a change of scenery.

A video posted by Czech animal rights group OBRAZ shows Jirka, an 11-year resident of the popular chateau located 30 km south of Prague, walking around in circles and violently swaying his head – a behaviour the activists believe is a symptom of abuse and a sign of psychological distress.

The 16-year-old bear can walk around an enclosure of about 200 square meters at the Konopiště castle – compared to the roughly 400 square kilometers its species commonly enjoys in its natural habitat, according to the animal rights activists.

“It isn’t fair for Jirka to serve as a tourist attraction at the expense of its needs and well-being,” OBRAZ said in a statement.

Quoted by iDnes, German expert Ulrike Richter also considers this breeding environment to be “cruelty to the animals which can lead to mental disorders”.

The activist group launched an online petition, signed by more than 2,600 people so far, urging the management of the castle to improve Jirka’s living conditions, and commit to put an end to such “an outdated tradition that has no justification” today.

The management of the castle has dismissed the accusations, saying the bear was properly cared for, enjoyed indoor space in addition to the outside area and received a yearly visit from the regional veterinary administration to check its physical and mental health – the latest in July.

They however conceded that the enclosure could be larger, and claimed an expansion was in the works.

One of the most popular day-trip destinations from Prague, the 13th-century Konopiště castle has been keeping bears on its grounds for over a century, a tradition dating back to the turn of the 20th century when the chateau was owned by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 triggered the First World War.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.