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Bear Sanctuary Arbesbach

Brown Bears

Monika Fiby (author)
Annette Gunn (editor for ZooLex)
Published 2011-5-4



Schönfeld 18 , 3925 Arbesbach , Austria
Phone: +43-2813-76 04
URL: http://www.baerenwald.at


enrichment, rehabilitation


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
UrsidaeUrsus arctos arctosEurasian brown bear10


The international animal welfare organization Four Paws built its first bear sanctuary in 1997 in Arbesbach for bears that were rescued from inadequate holding conditions. The sanctuary's natural landscape and the supply of enrichment allows the bears to rediscover their instincts and to express their natural behaviours.

The Bear Sanctuary is a non-profit organization. In 1997, three bear enclosures and a central underground management unit were built on a portion of the Kolm family property that was leased for this purpose. Visitors could book a scheduled guided tour with the keepers. The expansion project in 2007 called for an additional bear exhibit and a self-guided tour for visitors. The Kolm family at that time had been running a restaurant, a kiosk and a multi-purpose function hall and was interested in synergies with a new visitor attraction at the sanctuary. They provided an additional part of their property for the expansion of the Bear Sanctuary.

Since the reopening in May 2009, the Bear Sanctuary has an additional bear exhibit with a visitor circuit, playgrounds, educational elements and a Bear Forest House. The building added storage and office space to the existing bear management unit, as well as a shop, an exhibition and toilets for visitors.

The perimeter of the bear sanctuary is fenced by a two meter high woven wire netting. The additional bear exhibit was built similar to the existing ones. The enclosure fences are 2.5 meters high with an overhang of a meter. They are chain-link fixed to a concrete base. The concrete base of the new exhibit is underground to be invisible. The fences have several electric strands along the inside. One meter inside the chain-link fence is another fence with two strands of electric wire. This fence prevents bears from approaching the main fence or digging underneath. Every enclosure has a gate for large vehicle access, a pond and a cave.

The Bear Sanctuary has drawn a larger audience after completion of the extension project. The Kolm family provides catering and toilets during opening hours. The sanctuary is closed from November to March when the bears hibernate.


The space for the bears includes three outdoor exhibits (3250 m², 2600 m², 2400 m²) each with a 6 m² cave and a separation enclosure (1100 m²), as well as four dens in a building (each 11,5 m²). Visitors can use outdoor playgrounds and exhibitions along their path (2700 m²). The Bear Forest House is built into the slope with two floors on a foot print of about 320 m². Visitor facilities include multimedia space, shop, toilets and exhibitions on 250 m², service facilities are storage, technical and staff space on 280 m². The dens, part of the storage and technical space are under ground. Service yards, service paths and planted buffer zones account for the remaining outdoor space of the Sanctuary.

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    



EUR 2,000,000 including 5-10 % for design.

The Bear Sanctuary received funding from Land Niederösterreich (ecoplus and Landschaftsfonds) as a tourism project. The municipality of Arbesbach additionally provided some financial support from building the parking lot, since it is used by cross-country skiers in winter. The total cost was for the parking lot, the visitor circuit with playgrounds and exhibits, an additional bear exhibit, upgrade of the existing bear exhibits and for a building with storage, service space, shop, exhibitions and toilets.


15 May 2009


Beginning: 2007

  • Concept Design, Playground and Exhibition Design, Landscape Design: Dipl. Ing. Monika Fiby, Vienna
  • Architecture: Dipl. Ing. Christian Dominkovits, Arch. ZT, Vienna
  • Statics: Johann Zehetgruber, ZT GmbH f. Bauwesen, Zwettl
  • Graphic Designer: Dino Kunkel, Vienna
  • Graphic Designer: Stefanie Nolz, Vienna
  • Graphic Designer, Photographer: Stefan Knöpfer, Schwechat
  • Project Management: Monika Fiby and Christian Dominkovits, Vienna
  • Surveying: DI Dr. Herbert Döller, Zwettl
  • Business Consultant: Dr Wolfgang Sovis CMC, Stockerau
  • Consultant for Exhibition Design: Mag. Hans Kudlich, Vienna
  • Wild Bear Expert: Georg Rauer Bärenanwalt NÖ+Stmk, Vienna
  • Consultant for Exhibition Design: Johannes Missall, Hamburg


Beginning: May 2008

  • Construction: Leyrer+Graf Baugesellschaft m.b.H, Gmünd
  • Carpentry and Joinery: Bauer Bernhard GmbH, Schönbach
  • Carpentry: Hermann Wahlmüller, Liebenau
  • Metalworks: Gerhard Jungwirth, Königswiesen
  • Fencing: Securo Zaunbau, Friedberg
  • Plumbing: Menhart Installationen Gesellschaft m.b.H, Groß Gerungs
  • Electrics: Ferdinand Traxler, Groß Gerungs
  • Glasswork: Eckelt Glass GmbH, Steyr
  • Windows and Doors: Bruckner Fenster und Türen GmbH, Groß Gerungs
  • Playgrounds: Johann Penz, Mühlviertler Alm Holz, Arbesbach
  • Lumber Mill: Anton Besenbäck, Holzland Waldviertel, Rappottenstein
  • Wood Carver: Fritz Besenbäck, Kleinnondorf
  • Tinsmith: Zahrl GesmbH, Groß Gerungs
  • Metalworks: Wilhlem Tüchler, Schlosserei und Portalbau Schweiggers, Schweiggers
  • Tiling: Gerhard Liebenauer, Zwettl
  • Concrete Sealing: M. Dolenz GmbH, Rhode Oberflächentechnik, Hirtenberg
  • Wooden Flooring: Robert Marjanovich, Bodenhandel and Bodenverlegung Marjanovich, Freistadt
  • Carpets: Raumausstatter Szedenik, Vienna
  • Painter: Josef Windischhofer, WiPra Maler-Meisterbetriebsges.m.b.H., Königswiesen
  • Print: Josef Mayerhofer, Zwettl
  • Banners: Abdurahman Music, Abdex.at, Vienna
  • Textile Print: Klaus L. Ziegler KG, Plakativ X-Large Printing, Vienna
  • Model: Bernhard Halbetel, Kollnbrunn
  • Planting: Artner Waldviertler Bio-Baumschulbetrieb, Bad Großpertholz


walter.gif This is a climatic diagram for the closest weather station.



The natural forest is mainly spruce and oak and was maintained as much as possible. Around the playground and entrance, fruit-bearing shrubs were planted, both for decoration and to educate the public about what bears like to eat.

All vegetation is native and adapted to the harsh climate. The young shrubs were bought at a local nursery so that they were adapted to the weather conditions. Tree protection is unnecessary due to the mature age of the bears who do not climb on trees any more.

The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.


The bears use the natural landscape and vegetation for investigation, foraging grass, insects, and worms and for finding comfort in sun or shade. The chain-link fences allow the bears to see and smell the environment around them.

Each enclosure has a concrete-lined pond, which is deep (1.5 meters minimum) and large enough for the bears to swim. An additional small pond was built in one exhibit for an individual bear that was too timid to use the large pond.

The bears like to dig holes in the ground. However, the granite ground on the site makes the digging of real caves impossible. Each exhibit therefore has an artificial cave (3 meters long and 1.3 meters high) that the bears may use as an alternative to their indoor dens.

One separation enclosure is hidden from public view. Here the bears can retreat after introduction, medical treatment or from other stress situations.

The bears are regularly rotated between the enclosures to give them a change in environment and to allow them foraging in different areas. Food and enrichment devices are placed in each enclosure on a daily basis for mental and physical stimulation. A manual about enrichment methods at the Bear Sanctuary was compiled for visitor information and can be downloaded from ZooLex Research.


There are two outdoor yards for storage. Indoor storage, technical and office spaces are on the backside of the building. A control panel in the office enables keepers to check the status of electric fences and cameras along the fences. All enclosure fences can be checked with lights and cameras.

Every enclosure has a door for keeper access, additionally to a large gate for vehicle access.

Sliding doors between bear enclosures are either horizontal and electrical, or vertical and mechanical. In a cage (with two sliding doors) between two exhibits the bears are trained for medical check-ups and procedures. The separation enclosure and two fenced-off sections can be used to separate bears outdoors to do maintenance in the enclosures and bring in enrichment devices.

There is a possibility to accommodate keepers overnight.

There is a box at the entrance where hunters can discreetly dispose of road-kill for the bears, even when the Bear Sanctuary is closed.


Visitors can book a guided tour or explore the sanctuary themselves. The whole visitor area is accessible without a single step. Additionally to views into the bear exhibits on ground level along the circuit, a raised boardwalk and platform provide a panoramic view of the landscape, views of the bears, seating and a book about bear enrichment. This boardwalk leads to the exhibition on the upper floor of the building. A ramp takes visitors back down to the ground level.

The exhibitions indoors and outdoors offer educational, interactive elements and activities.

A playground at the entrance is in view from the restaurant and picnic place. Apart from a sand box, a nest swing and a cave similar to the bears' ones, balancing courses challenge not to touch the ground on three levels of ability. Small children can use a trail of stepping stones and logs along the main path. At an intermediate level, older children can climb a trail across logs and bridges. The dexterous can balance and brachiate on another trail with stilts and rope structures. A rope garden in the forest offers another physical challenge suitable for most ages.


Goals of the Bear Sanctuary are to offer bears from bad holding conditions an appropriate environment and to inform visitors about bears in need. Interpretation covers the natural history of bears, Four Paw's work, Bear Sanctuaries of Four Paws and the status of wild bears in Austria, across Europe and worldwide. Currently, all of the bears at the Bear Sanctuary Arbesbach are from Austria.

In the indoor exhibition, visitors can learn about the natural history of bears through many forms of interactive elements. A turn puzzle shows the differentiation between similar bear species. A magnetic game about encountering a bear in the wild describes the human-bear relationship. Enrichment examples and food buckets educate about bear management at the Sanctuary. There is a cube puzzle of bears in Arbesbach during the seasons, a smell station educating about bears sense of smell and preferences, a wall puzzle with day and night active forest animals and a scale model of the Sanctuary with information about how the bears are shifted between areas. Further signage describes the Four Paw's work for saving dancing and circus bears. Money for these projects is collected in a wooden wishing well.

In the multimedia space short films about the work of Four Paws and the creation of this and other Four Paw Bear Sanctuaries are permanently shown. The area also serves as a classroom. Activities for school groups include creating enrichment devices and preparing a bear nest for winter.

Outdoor activities are related to bears, whether it is strength or dexterity. The playground and the rope garden challenge visitors to complete activities without touching the ground. A cave in between is a smaller look-alike of the juxtaposed bear cave in the exhibit.

A cage simulation is built underneath the viewing platform. Visitors may enter the "cage" through openings between elastic simulated bars and view the bears outside in the enclosure. The space illustrates the typical cage size that bears were kept in before they arrived at the Bear Sanctuary. Along the path visitors can find a transport box and a description of how a bear was moved to the Bear Sanctuary.

A sandpit with sandals for making animal tracks is located along the forest path. Visitors may put on the sandals and make bear, lynx and wolf tracks. Thereby they experience how plantigrades (bears) walk differently from digitigrades (lynxes and wolves).

One level of interpretation focuses on the relationship between man and bear. An artificial canyon provides an opportunity for visitors to create cave paintings with chalk on natural rock.

In the sanctuary, keepers are careful to ensure that visitors do not feed or disturb the bears. Live-size figures of the real keepers explain the reasons in flashy speech bubbles additionally to smaller prohibition signs.


Keepers move the bears between enclosures on a regular basis for maintenance and enrichment. There are always two slide doors between enclosures so that one bear cannot block access to an exhibit for the other bears.

Indoor facilities are open and available to the bears at all times. However, they prefer the artificial caves outdoors in the exhibits.

Some bear individuals are more compatible than others. A brother and sister pair was introduced with two brothers. These four bears use two exhibits together.

While water of the old ponds must be pumped to empty them, the new ponds have drainage outlets. The larger of the new ponds additionally has a pump circulating the water across a waterfall.

The keepers support the natural seasonal feeding behaviour of the bears by providing seasonally varying quantities and qualities of food.

As breeding in Bear Sanctuaries is undesirable, the male bears are neutered.


The effectiveness of enrichment methods was researched with respect to treating stereotypical behaviour and reducing stress. The keepers established changes of enrichment and daily management routines to challenge the bears with appropriate new tasks. The use of food in enrichment has proven to be the most effective method for the bears. The keepers can observe how long it takes each individual bears to investigate and manage a task.

A bathtub was placed in an enclosure for an individual female Eurasian brown bear that was too timid to use the main pool in her enclosure. The bathtub was a test to see whether the bear would use water. Due to the positive outcome, a small pool was built specifically for her.

Interactive elements were tested during development and after installation for eventual refinishing. Tracking and timing of visitors revealed the need of some additional signs.


Gravel and green swales on the parking lot and a green roof on the Bear Forest House allow stormwater retention.


All services, building materials and products that are locally available are locally sourced.

597K + description597K
©Bärenwald Arbesbach, 2009

105K + description165K
Site Plan
©Bärenwald Arbesbach, 2009

68K + description108K
On the ice (1)
©Stefan Knöpfer, 2008

101K + description197K
Entrance to the Sanctuary (2)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

78K + description78K
Bärenhof Restaurant (3)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

98K + description162K
Bear Exhibit (4)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

85K + description85K
Bear and Cave (5)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

168K + description333K
Large pool (6)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

81K + description81K
Bear Training (7)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Play Circus (8)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

93K + description157K
Bear Seesaw (9)
©Stefanie Nolz, 2009

107K + description171K
No feeding! (10)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Rope Garden (11)
©Monika Fiby, 2010

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Making Tracks (12)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Canyon (13)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Bear enrichment (14)
©Monika Fiby, 2008

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Enrichment Book (15)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Bear Silhouettes (16)
©Monika Fiby, 2010

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Wall Puzzle (17)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Birdproof Window (18)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Cube Puzzle (19)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Bear Encounter (20)
©Monika Fiby, 2010

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Bear Diet (22)
©Monika Fiby, 2009

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Shop (23)
©Monika Fiby, 2010

51K + description78K
Keeper's office (24)
©Annette Gunn, 2010

Bear Enrichment (25)
©Stefan Knöpfer, 2008



You are visitor number 9479 to this exhibit presentation.

Revised 2010-07-25
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