BERN, September 22 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian president and his wife presented two Siberian bear cubs to Bern at a ceremony on Tuesday, on the second day of Dmitry Medvedev's state visit to Switzerland.
The gift, on the occasion of the first official visit to Switzerland by a Russian leader, comes ahead of the opening next month of the capital's newly enlarged Bear Pit, for centuries one of the city's main tourist attractions. It stretches down to the river and is designed to give the animals more space and a more natural environment than previously.
Bears have been kept in Bern at the city's expense since 1513. The city's name comes from the German word for bear, and the animal is featured on the local flag and coat of arms. According to legend, city founder Duke Berthold V named the capital after he killed a bear during a hunt in 1191.
The old Bear Pit was closed in April after a 28-year-old brown bear, Pedro, who suffered from a heavy form of arthritis, was put down.
The orphaned seven-month-old bears presented by the Russian leader, caught in the taiga by hunters in spring, were flown to Switzerland earlier this month. They will be named Misha and Masha, according to media reports. The ceremony was attended by city Mayor Alexander Tschaeppaet and the Swiss president's wife, Rosvita Merz.
Medvedev's surname comes from the Russian word 'medved' meaning bear. The animal is a Russian national symbol, and features on the ruling party's flag.
On Tuesday, Medvedev is expected to attend another ceremony, to mark the 210th anniversary of the strategic retreat of Russian troops led by General Alexander Suvorov through the snow-capped Swiss Alps.
Medvedev is also due to meet with the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge.