Bears bid adieu to the Left Bank

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The Independent Online

The last of a long line of bears that have lived in a miserable pit in Paris for 199 years have moved to a new home in the country. Louise and Pacha, mother and son, two fluffy, light-brown Persian bears, had been kept all their lives in two narrow, stone-lined holes, equipped with a dank pool, a dark den and a log. Scarcely the "bear necessities".

The last of a long line of bears that have lived in a miserable pit in Paris for 199 years have moved to a new home in the country. Louise and Pacha, mother and son, two fluffy, light-brown Persian bears, had been kept all their lives in two narrow, stone-lined holes, equipped with a dank pool, a dark den and a log. Scarcely the "bear necessities".

Successive generations of bears had lived in these pits since 1805, to the delight of successive generations of Parisian children, but increasing disgust of successive generations of Parisian animal-lovers.

In other words, the bears' accommodation had been unchanged since the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Austerlitz (when you could still find dancing bears in the streets of European cities). After 27 years of complaints from the French league of animal rights, Pacha and Louise have been removed from the menagerie in the Jardin des Plantes (botanical gardens) to a space 10 times bigger in a safari park on the edge of Paris.

But what of the remaining animals in the small, but much-visited, menagerie, which is believed to be the oldest - and probably the most disgraceful - public zoo in the world?

What of the tigers in cages who barely have space to turn around? What of the snow panthers and the jaguar, in tiny, ornate cages like those that you see in 19th-century children's books about zoos? What about the scrawny camel in its small enclosure? What about the monkeys and the orang-utan in their dark, sterile monkey-house?

Stéphane Né, the secretary of the Ligue Française des Droits de l'Animal, said: "We are delighted that the bears have been moved, even though it was probably more for the safety of human visitors than for the welfare of the animals. But the rest of the menagerie is just as old and archaic. It is a standing disgrace to a capital such as Paris that such a zoo should still exist in the heart of the city. It should be abolished immediately."

The other animal cages also date from the early years of the 19th century, but their design was based on typical European zoos of the 18th century. The management of the Jardin des Plantes, only slightly shamefaced, says that it cannot modernise the small zoo because the whole site - in the city's fifth arrondissement, on the Left Bank, just beyond Notre Dame cathedral - is covered by a historical protection order. The case for moving the bears became unanswerable for reasons of "animal ethics", the management says. It is no longer acceptable in the 21st century that humans should "look down" on animals. The other cages are tolerable, it says, because the animals in the cages are on the same level as their human visitors.

This is a bizarre argument. The Jardin des Plantes does not intend to leave the bear pits empty. It plans to fill them with small red pandas and binturongs, or cat-bears. Why is it ethically acceptable to look down on a small bear, but not a big one?

Animal-rights activists are convinced that the real reason that the Persian bears were moved was because the pits, with their low metal railings, no longer satisfied regulations to protect the safety of humans. The management of the Jardin des Plantes says that there are no plans to close down the rest of the menagerie, or to convert it into a petting farm as animal-rights campaigners suggest. "We receive scores of letters every year, including many from British tourists, complaining about the Jardin des Plantes menagerie," said Stéphane Né. "Attitudes to animals are beginning to change in France, but it is certainly a slow process."

Twenty or 30 years ago, Né explained, any talk of animal rights in France (the country that invented human rights) was ridiculed. Now, there are increasingly powerful lobbies against bull-fighting and the force-feeding of geese to produce foie gras. However, there are even more powerful lobbies to defend them.

Garret-dwellers are party poopers

Neighbours, episode 432. Our apartment block joined in, for the first time, with the neighbours' party-day, the French idea that has spread all over Europe this year. Typical conversation: You're new in this building aren't you? No, we've been living here for four years. Oh.

I, to the disgust of my wife, even shook hands with the "Monsieur d'en bas", our loathsome downstairs neighbour, who once complained when we held a children's party on a Saturday afternoon.

Almost everyone from the large, posh flats on the first six floors came to the party in the courtyard. No one came from the warren of cheap bedsits on the seventh and eighth floors, an ever-changing United Nations of students and immigrants. They were invited, but evidently felt unable to penetrate the invisible social barrier that separates flats from the former chambres de bonnes (maids' rooms) that are to be found under the eaves of apartment blocks across the city. An example of Upstairs Downstairs, French-style.

Bedtime stories

Stupefaction in France at a survey conducted by Ikea, the world leader in selling flat-pack furniture and plastic spoons that you don't really need. The French are not the world's greatest nation in bed, and nor even are the Italians. The most sexually active people on earth, in bed, are, apparently, the Malaysians.

A survey by Ikea's bedding section found that 20 per cent of French people said that they had sex in bed every day (compared to a world average of 15 per cent). In Malaysia, 43 per cent of people said that they had sex in bed each day.

Just over half of the French said that they had sex mostly in bed, compared to 72 per cent of the unimaginative Swedes, and only 20 per cent of the Chinese. Which rather begs the question, where on earth do the Chinese...

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