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The situation regarding captive bears in the Ukraine is dire. As many as 400 bears may be held under poor conditions throughout the country, in private ownership or small zoos. Unregulated and illegal breeding of bears is a major problem. Our partner Eco-Halych is gathering data on these cases in order to properly estimate the scale of the problem. They already operate a small sanctuary for several of the brown bears, rescued in 2016. Since 2018, Eco-Halych took on a new challenge and is now heading the management of a sanctuary for bear called ‘Arden’. Bears in Mind has provided funds to equipe a surgery room at the sanctuary, so bears that are brought in can undergo basic dental treatment, castration or other surgery needed.

Bears in Mind and several other international animal welfare organisations are planning to work more closely together, with the responsible Ministry in UA, in order to end captive bear suffering in the Ukraine. Hopefully, after the war in UA with the Russian occupiers, we can resume our joint and urgent tasks in the Ukraine. 

Free the Bears (FTB) has constructed a brand new, 60-acre wildlife sanctuary intended to provide vital support to the government of Laos’ efforts at ending bear bile farming and the illegal trade in threatened species. The Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary will also incorporate a dedicated Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit for orphaned bear cubs. Bears in Mind will finacially assist FTB with the construction of these important units. Bear houses, outdoor enclosures covering 15,000m2 have already been constructed, along with Quarantine facilities and a fully equipped wildlife hospital.

In order to increase capacity for the housing and rearing of rescued bear cubs, FTB will develop a new Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit within the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. This facility will be modeled on the existing Cub Nursery located at FTB Cambodian Bear Sanctuary which has been in operation since 2013. The new facility will offer them the opportunity to receive and raise orphaned bear cubs in a safe and secure location, away from visitors and within the site that will most probably be the bears lifetime home.

Currently no specific facilities exist for the rearing of rescued bear cubs within Laos, meaning that cubs often have to be kept in temporary enclosures or even private homes if they require around-the-clock care. As they grow older, they have to be kept in temporary enclosures within the sanctuary, often in close proximity to adult bears which may harm them should they come into contact with one another. The planned facility will incorporate overnight accommodation for staff, making night-time feeds much easier, a clean and sterile environment for food preparation and daily husbandry of cubs such as weighing or toileting. A humidicrib used for human babies will be incorporated for the tiniest of cubs – essential in Laos where overnight temperatures can drop rapidly. Finally, as cubs grow older and become more independent, tailor-made play pens will allow them to develop their locomotion skills without the risk of harming themselves.

The ICU and cub rehabilitation center was finished in 2021!

On August 3 2019, bears Medo & Buya were loaded onto a transport van which took them all the way from the small town of Vlahi in Bulgaria to the small town of Aprica in Northern Italy. It was a long but successful journey, where the bears were actually very calm throughout the trip.

On August 4th they arrived in Aprica and were taken up the mountain to their new home. Their 10,000 sq meter natural forested enclosure is part of an education centre for Alpine wildlife: https://www.parcorobievalt.com/centri-visitatori/osservatorio-eco-faunistico-alpino

During the next days both bears settled in nicely, each their own separate indoor enclosure. After several weeks of exploring the forested outdoor enclosure, the bears were finally reunited again!

They are doing very well and we hope that they will have many wonderful years to come!

The Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets in Armenia (FPWC) uses film to create awareness about the important and stunning biodiversity present in Armenia as well as in the whole southern Caucasus region. The region is a so-called ‘hotspot’. This means that it is extremely rich in species but is at the same time also one of the most threatened areas in the region. Locals are hardly aware of these treasures of abundance and hardly do anything to protect it. FPWC strives to raise awareness amongst the local people, old and young, in multiple ways.

Since 2011, FPWC has been closely involved with Yerevan Zoo. This has presented a unique opportunity to put Armenia’s abundant biodiversity into the spotlight. Besides this, it is of utmost importance to rebuild the many old enclosures in the zoo in order to increase the overall welfare of the zoos animals. The old bear enclosure, which will be part of the ‘Large Bear Enclosure’ has been given natural substrate, safe hiding places and climbing structures, thus giving the bears the opportunity to develop their natural behaviour. The animal keepers have been thoroughly trained about taking proper care of bears. At the beginning of 2015, construction of the almost 6 hectare ‘LBE’ started. Many construction materials, such as mesh wire fences, power generators and electric fencing were donated with the help of Bears in Mind.

The Armenian ‘Large Bear Enclosure’ in Yerevan Zoo was finished in 2018 and several bears confiscated from restaurants and private ownership have been moved to their new home since then. Currently, 2021, the LBE accommodates 16 bears and a pack of wolves. In 2022 Bears in Mind helps Yerevan Zoo with acquiring new veterinary equipement for the their clinic to treat the bears and other animals in their care and gives advise on diet and husbandry to further improve the bears’ overall welfare.

According to non-official data around 60 brown bears used to be kept in miserable captive conditions throughout Armenia. Mainly in restaurants, petrol stations, private premises and factories. Since 2017, the FPWC, along with the responsible governmental bodies has confiscated and relocated around 32 bears out of 60 into Bear Rehabilitation Center, located in Ursadzor village of Ararat region, far from human settlements. The Center runs on donations, grants, as well as support of local and international community and cooperation. All of the rescued bears have a difficult background from their former captive situation and have suffered years of isolation in horrible conditions. Wrong diet & keeping conditions has led to issues with dentals, gastroenterological problems, arthritis, joint problems, as well as behavioral issues and stereotypic behavior. These bears require special veterinary care and monitoring of behavior to assess their rehab status and ensure welfare is guaranteed in the Center. Bears in Mind has provided funds to help FPWC improve their welfare at the Center.

In cooperation with Bears in Mind Balkani Wildlife Society has saved around seventy dancing bears, zoo bears and circus bears, staring from 1999. These bears were all given a chip. Balkani Wildlife Society visits all the bears on a regular basis and gives them veterinary care. Also the Belitza Dancing Bear Center has been built. In 2008 the last dancing bears were placed in this shelter. In 2015 Bears in Mind rescued the last bears from former Bulgarian bear-breeding station Kormisosh.

No more Bulgarian dancing bears
The disappearance of dancing bears in the streets of Bulgaria does not mean that the project has ended. In cooperation with Bears in Mind, Balkani Wildlife Society will continue the annaul visits to check on bears in zoos and circuses. The Bulgarian authorities asked Balkani to tag all the captive bears to monitor their well-being. Bears in Mind has also done similar projects in countries like Georgia and Albania.

In 2007 approximately 1200 dancing bears were counted in India, most of which are currently saved and sheltered by Wildlife SOS. This organization does not only save the bears, it also initiates preventive measures. Bears in Mind supports Wildlife SOS.

Method
Wildlife SOS deals with the problem by addressing the source. As soon as an alert about a dancing bear is received, people from Wildlife SOS go the the location. The bear is being confiscated and the owner apprehended. Following this, a social course is started, in collaboration with the Indian government. The bear is a source of income for the families. If that is taken, there is a great chance another bear is bought. Wildlife SOS breaks this circle by helping the families to develop new means of income. The owner gets 50.000 rupee for compensation, the children are sent to school and he is helped with the finding of another way to earn money. The oldest member of the extensive family (the chief) is ordered to prevent any member of the family making the same mistake again. This method works. No more bears are turned into dancing bears and Wildlife SOS helps to save and shelter the remaining dancing bears.

Four bears are living in the shelter of the Karuna Society for Animals and Nature now (2009). The purpose of this organization is to provide a first safe haven for the bears. The organization has close contact with the government and the larger rescue shelters in India. Once there is a place for the bear, it will be moved to enjoy a real bear-worthy life. Besides bears, the Karuna Society for Animals and Nature also rescues other animals. Animals are reintroduced back into the wild whenever this is possible. Bears however, have often been in contact with humans for too long. The rescued bear has a very real chance to become a 'problem bear' and in the worst scenario be killed in a conflict with people.

The trade in dancing bears
The bears are returned to their former owners with an official licence. The owners may not leave the state with their bears. The owners are promised some financial compensation when they return their bear to one of the shelters. Unfortunately, bear owners often flee beyond the borders of their state or region to areas where monitoring is less or not being done. Permits are copied and linked to other bears. Checking permits within and communication between Indian states is extremely difficult. Trading bears remains a very serious problem and exists widely.

Bears that are used to living in captivity are not able to fend for themselves in the wild. In search of food they often come too close to human settlements. This often results in bear-human conflicts. This also happened to the three released bears, among them the one three-legged bear. This bear had attacked a farmer, who was able to catch the bear. Bears in Mind and ARKA were able to move the bear to the bear shelter in Banostor. For the other bears help came too late; hunters had already killed them. 

Bear Forest in Serbia
Bears in Mind did not succeed in getting Elvis to the Bear Forest in the Netherlands. Obtaining the certificates of ownership and export permission (CITES) from Serbia proved too big an obstacle. To give Elvis and the other bears in Banostor an adequate shelter, Bears in Mind financed the extension of the sanctuary. A beautiful outdoor enclosure was realized with a nice pond for the bears to swim in. 

Elvis spent a happy time there, until he passed away in 2011.

The female turned out to be pregnant and gave birth to two cubs. The four bears were confined to a small and filthy cage and lived under dreadful conditions. The bears did nog get enough food and water, and were not properly cared for. Early in 2009 Bears in Mind received a Bear Alert about these bears. After a thorough preparation the bears were rescued and transported to the Bear Forest in Rhenen, just before Christmas of 2009. 

A new life
In the Bear Forest the bears started a completely new life. First they had to stay in quarantaine to get used to their new surroundings and receive a complete medical check-up. The bears' teeth were checked and treated. As a result of the bad living condtions and bad food, their teeth were severely damaged, which meant that several teeth had te be extracted and holes had to be filled. One bear received a rootcanal treatment. The two older bears (Bruce & Ronja), one of them blind and one deaf, got strong and healthy enough again and could succesfully be introduced in the Bear Forest in July 2010 where they truly enjoyed the space, the pond and the company of the other bears! The two young bears, Pepe and Pedro, were relocated to bear sanctuaries in Germany. 

Unfortunately, old bear Bruce died in the summer of 2011. He had a fantastic year before he passed away. He loved swimming and played a lot with the other much younger bears of the Bear Forest, despite the fact that he was blind. Ronja passed away at the end of 2012 due to a brain tumor.

Although brown bears are legally protected in Albania, many wild bears are poached and very little is done to control poaching activities. Keeping bears in captivity is also forbidden by law. However, research carried out by PPNEA in 2014 indicated that a total of at least 41 bears are kept under sub-optimal conditions. Poor law enforcement as well as endemic corruption in the country have led to a further decline in the wild bear population. According to recent estimates by the LCIE (Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe) the wild bear population in Albania varies between 180 and 250 individuals.

Reasons for keeping bears
To unveil the motivations behind and actors involved in this phenomenon PPNEA (financially supported by Bears in Mind) undertook a quantitative survey with visitors of premises that hold bears in captivity and qualitative group interviews in rural areas that are known as hotspots of bears’ capture and trade. The results indicated that the motivation of the local rural population in capturing and selling bears is mainly economic (bear cubs sell for amounts between 250 – 600 EUR / individual). However the captures are done randomly or when the chance is given and that regular hunting / trapping for this sole purpose seems to be non-exitent. This suggests that this activity is not a major source of income for locals and captured brown bear cubs seem to be a side phenomenon that reflects the general problems of hunting management and law enforcement in the country. On the other hand, a more problematic issue is that there is a general interest to visit places where bears are exposed and the figures are frightening. Only 20% of respondents declared that they do not have any interest to visit a restaurant / cafe because of the bear presence. In addition there also exists a misconception among the population that the captive bears are a touristic asset for the country. The data shows that almost 70% of respondents believe that the bears in captivity attract tourists; this is a much higher figure if compared to 45% of those who believe that the bear in nature attract more tourists.

There is also a low awareness level among visitors in respect to the illegality of capturing / keeping bears in captivity and protection status of the animal. Only 35% of respondents were aware of some vague legal protection status. These misconceptions about captive bears are major drivers that help such illegal business to operate. Furthermore the attitudes of the public are hostile in terms of undertaking any action to stop the illegal practise of maintaining captive bears in restaurants: 54% of interviewed persons where against the elimination and 64% of them will do nothing to solve the problem.

The low level of awareness among the general public in Albania is holding back potential solutions to the bear issues in Albania. Therefore the gap in knowledge should be filled by an effectively organized public-awareness campaign and social mobilization should follow up to try to stop the influx of captive bears in restaurants which subsequently will improve the situation for the wild population.

Future
It is unclear what will happen to the many captive bears in Albania in the near future. Bears in Mind and her partners keep pushing the government to act and start developing a sanctuary to accommodate all the bears, but until now these attempts have proven unsuccessful. Once new developments will arise, it will be published on our website. Over the past years, many captive bears have been relocated to sanctuaries and zoos outside of Albania, by a number of NGOs. This does not solve the problem and the government has to step up and take responsibility.