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Two Albanian restaurant bears find new home in Swiss Alps


Rescued just in time

 Arosa, 4 February 2019 – On 1 February, the international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS successfully transferred two of the last restaurant bears from Albania to Arosa Bear Sanctuary in Switzerland. The two 13-year-old bears spent their lives in a private mini zoo near a restaurant in Albania. After four days and 2 436 kilometers through five countries, the two bears arrived safely in Arosa Bear Sanctuary. The bears were given their names when they arrived: known now as Meimo and Amelia, the bears join fellow resident Napa in the snow-clad Swiss Alps.


Meimo and Amelia were accompanied by a team consisting of FOUR PAWS employees, representatives from Arosa Bear Sanctuary, the Arosa Mountain Railways, and veterinarian Dr Frank Göritz from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW). The transport started on the morning of 29 January with the anaesthetisation of the bears, so that they could be medically examined and loaded into the transport crates. The approximately 60 square metre enclosure in which they lived was immediately destroyed. The restaurant owner does not want to keep any more animals because of the inappropriate conditions. As soon as the bears were awake again, they were taken on the journey of their lives: from Albania to Greece via Macedonia, and then by ferry to Italy. Once they had arrived in Italy, the journey went on to Switzerland and finally up to Arosa.


Demanding transfer to alpine Arosa

The transfer to Arosa had to be planned and executed at very short notice as the mini zoo where the bears lived was to be closed and demolished at the end of January. The winter conditions in snow-covered Arosa presented the team with several logistical hurdles. “One of the biggest challenges was to get the bears safely to the sanctuary within all the snow. Like Napa before, we took the bears up to the middle station by gondola. For the last few metres to the sanctuary, a snow groomer was used that was specially rebuilt to transport the bears. We are proud that everything went smoothly and that we were able to overcome all challenges successfully,” says Carsten Hertwig, bear expert at FOUR PAWS. The transfer went without any delays or surprises and Amelia and Meimo seemed to like their new home immediately.


What will happen next?

The team at Arosa Bear Sanctuary is optimistic that the two healthy and well-fed newcomers will be hibernating in a few days’ time. The scientific director Hans Schmid bases this hope on the planned feeding concept: “We will reduce the amount of food in the first few days and expect the bears to go into hibernation quite naturally”. In the spring, the aim is to socialise the bears in the outdoor enclosure. With a size of three hectares, the sanctuary offers many opportunities for each individual bear to retreat at any time.


Closure due to criticism

The owner of the bears is also the owner of the restaurant and the mini zoo where they are kept. It is not known whether the owner has ever held an official license to operate the mini zoo. In November 2018, FOUR PAWS was informed that the restaurant owner wanted to close the mini zoo (due to criticism from guests and tourists about the inappropriate keeping of animals) and was looking for buyers for the wild animals. FOUR PAWS then agreed to take over the two bears.


Appropriate conditions for ALL animals in zoos

“From FOUR PAWS' point of view, zoos must ensure that they keep their animals in a species-appropriate manner on a permanent basis; this includes responsible stock and breeding management,” says Fiona Miles, FOUR PAWS South Africa country director.


“Not only should the animals be kept in appropriate conditions, but the relevant regulations should be in place and enforced to the end that cruel keeping conditions are impossible. This should not only apply to zoos abroad, but also South Africa – where we urge all relevant parties to ensure animals are kept in conditions conducive to their well-being,” says Miles.


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Issued by: MJ Lourens – Four Paws South Africa: Head of Communication
Direct queries/interview requests to: 
Issued on behalf of: Fiona Miles – Four Paws South Africa: Country Director