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Twenty years on from building the world’s first bear sanctuary, WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) and local partner AMP, has opened the final enclosure at the Zarnesti Bear Sanctuary this week in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania. Now the largest bear sanctuary in Europe, this will provide a home for the last twenty-five bears left in illegal captivity in Romania.
WSPA, the world’s leading animal welfare charity, first launched a global campaign to rescue and protect bears from cruelty in 1992. Initially, the campaign focused on rescuing bears from illegal and cruel captivity and WSPA developed the world’s first bear sanctuary in Greece, with local partner Arcturos.
WSPA wanted to be able to provide a safe and natural space for bears rescued from captivity, who, unable to return to the wild, would be able to live out their lives in a natural environment with room to climb, play, hibernate, eat and sleep. It also developed international standards by which bear sanctuaries could be run.
Since then, WSPA continued to design and fund bear sanctuaries in Turkey, Hungary, Thailand, Pakistan, India, and Laos and worked with local animal groups to end the tradition of bear dancing in Greece, Turkey and India.
Romania is home to over 6000 European brown bears. WSPA, in partnership with local partner Asociatia Milioane De Prieteni (AMP), built Romania’s first bear sanctuary in Zarnesti in 2006. It currently houses 60 bears who have been rescued from illegal and cruel captive conditions. The Sanctuary plans to rescue the 25 bears left in illegal captivity over the next few years.
Liviu Cioineag, the Zarnesti Sanctuary Manager, said: “Eight of these bears are kept in private properties which are illegal in Romania, and the rest are being kept in bad conditions in zoos which don’t meet the European Directive on Zoos. Our plan in the next few years is to rescue all the remaining bears left in illegal captivity and offer them a happy life.
“One of the bears, named Prince Charles, has been kept in a zoo for forty years and is deaf. Now the enclosure is open, we are planning to rescue him next month, as we feel he won’t last another winter at the zoo”.
Victor Watkins, WSPA’s Wildlife Adviser, says that many bears still face a difficult future.
“We have made great progress in ending the horrific blood sport of bear baiting in Pakistan, but there are still 50 bears we must urgently rescue and rehabilitate there. Bear baiting is an incredibly cruel ‘sport’ where when a bear is a couple of years old it is forced into arenas where they are set upon by powerful fighting dogs. This is seen as a ‘sport’ where bets are taken on the outcome of the fight.
“Our biggest challenge is now to protect wild bears from being captured and exploited for profit in the cruel and entirely unnecessary bear bile industry. Across East and South East Asia thousands of bears kept captive in this industry experience a lifetime of mental and physical anguish, being farmed for their bile to be used in medicines.”
Note to editors
As well as rescuing bears from being kept in illegal captivity, WSPA is working to protect wild bears from being captured and exploited for bear bile by: working in partnership with Asian governments – using research, education and diplomacy to work for end bear farming and calling for an end to the illegal trade in bear products. We are also working with practitioners and consumers of Traditional Asian Medicine to promote the alternatives to bear bile.