The Český Krumlov Castle is not your typical Czech castle. Not only is it more than 700 years old and gigantic (the second largest in Czechia), it has long enjoyed the formidable protection of having several brown bears living in the moat surrounding the castle.
The Český Krumlov castle was constructed in 1240 and passed down through the powerful Rosenberg family up through the 16th century. Bears have long been part of the family. It is believed that bears were first held at the castle starting in the second half of the 16th century, and they started living in the moat around 1707. Bears also make an appearance on the family’s coat of arms, holding up shields.
Throughout the years, the early bears who made their home in the castle moat have died off, and new ones have been gifted or donated by aristocrats. Today, there are four bears living in the protective moat between the castle’s first and second courtyard. Vok and Kateřina are the older pair who had two cubs, Daxi and Hubert. (Their names were chosen by a national vote.) Sadly, Daxi died at the young age of four. But a new mate was introduced for Hubert, named Marie Terezie.
More recently the moat was reconstructed to meet the modern requirements of a comfortable environment for the animals there, including trees, a lagoon, and toys. There have also been efforts to make the enclosure appear to be part of the natural landscape of the Sumava Mountains situated south of the castle, where the bears had lived before being killed off in the 19th century.
Every year on Christmas Eve, a festival is held for the bears. This is the only time of the year where visitors are allowed in the enclosure. Early in the morning, children arrive bringing food for the bears to lay under trees, also decorated with treats, which the bear keeper sets up the day before. The keeper is careful to make sure the food is appropriate for the bears to eat. They bring such foods as apples, Christmas biscuits, pastries, and honey. After all the food is placed, the bears are released and have a frenzy on delicious Christmas treats.
The bear keeper, Jan Černý also gives talks around the local area, educating children about the animals. However, this education might be needed elsewhere because a couple years ago, some American tourists tried to meet the bears face-to-face and ended up as you may expect: mauled.
Despite the efforts to keep the bears happy and healthy, certain animal rights group criticize the practice of keeping bears in the Český Krumlov moat. They believe this tradition is not in the best interest of the animals and has devolved into a simple tourist attraction.