Kosovo: rescue of ‘restaurant bears’
The transfer of suffering brown bears into the new bear park Prishtina has started
End of May 2013 FOUR PAWS rescued, with the support of KFOR, four illegally kept brown bears living under poor conditions and transferred them to the newly founded bear park Prishtina where one female bear has already found a new home.
Two of the bears, Ari and Arina, were living under terrible conditions on bare concrete in the small zoo of Shqiponja in Prizren, serving as an attraction for customers of the nearby restaurant. On the narrow premises of the small, zoo, they were exhibited in a tiny, dungeon-like cage on the first floor, together with dogs and wolves. Two other female bears, currently un-named, had led a sad life in a twelve square metre cage on a playground next to a restaurant in the recreation park Germia close to Prishtina.
All four bears had very little space to move around,, no water to bathe themselves and barely any escape from the sun. “Bears need a lot of space and opportunities to bathe, to climb and to rest”, says Heli Dungler, founder and president of FOUR PAWS, attending the bear rescues. “These restaurant bears have suffered terribly in tiny cages for their whole lives.”
Together with a KFOR vet, FOUR PAWS vets sedated the bears, examined them and took them to the new FOUR PAWS bear park in the organisation’s bear ambulance. Although the restaurant owner in the recreation park close to Prishtina was cooperative and agreed to have the bears transferred, the bears from the small zoo had to be removed from the restaurant by the police.
On an area of fifteen hectares, some twenty kilometres away from Prishtina, FOUR PAWS is building a rescue centre for all of Kosovo’s fifteen remaining privately kept brown bears suffering under terrible conditions in cages next to restaurants.
Earlier in March, the animal welfare organisation rescued a female brown bear called Kassandra and moved her to the bear park. Kassandra had been suffering in a cage of six square metres next to a restaurant on the Dulje saddle, some thirty kilometres south of Prishtina. Her owner had simply left her behind when he closed the restaurant.
All five bears have safely arrived at the park and will get used to their new situation in adjustment enclosures before they are released into an enclosure the size of several hectares. “We are glad to already have five of the fifteen restaurant bears in our custody”, says Heli Dungler. “Here, they are cared for, and for the first time in their life they can move freely in a natural environment, without the constricting cage bars around them.”
The fifteen illegally kept ‘restaurant bears’ were tracked down and registered by FOUR PAWS and the government of Kosovo during the last few years.
The bears were born in the forests of Kosovo and Albania and were brutally snatched away from their mother by animal traders. Serving as ‘restaurant bears’, they were supposed to increase the number of customers and thus help to increase the profits.
Cooperation with Kosovo government
Since autumn 2010, keeping brown bears privately is illegal in Kosovo. Nevertheless, until recently there was little the Ministry of Environment could actually do to prevent it. “As bears living in captivity cannot be released into the wild anymore and we had no place to keep them appropriately for their species, we were helpless against illegal trade and keeping”, explains Kosovo’s Minister of Environment, Dardan Gashi. “We are therefore very happy that FOUR PAWS, by building the bear park, has created the conditions to confiscate the animals and to keep them appropriately.” According to Gashi, from now on the Ministry of Environment will take severe legal action against restaurant owners acquiring bears and react with rigorous sanctions to bear trade and keeping.
The whole project is supported by Kosovo’s Ministry of Environment that will now be able to enforce the ban on private bear keeping, and by the City of Prishtina providing the property of the bear park.
During the upcoming months, FOUR PAWS will rescue another ten brown bears, transfer them to the bear park and thus end illegal bear keeping in Kosovo.