FOUR PAWS rescues the last dancing bears of Serbia
Three brown bears who suffered terribly as dancing bears in Serbia have been successfully transferred to the FOUR PAWS sanctuary in Bulgaria. 7-year-old Seida, 10-year-old Natasia and Milena, who is about 30, arrived at Belitsa late at night on January 28, 2009.
Their journey to freedom had been under threat for months, due to political disagreements between Serbia and Bulgaria. Following a 24-hour-showdown at the border, the tired and desperate animals were brought to their destination where their nose rings – symbols of their captivity – were removed.
The months leading up to the transfer were dramatic. After all the details of the take-over had been agreed with the authorities and owners, a diplomatic issue between Serbia and Bulgaria impeded the transfer of the animals. FOUR PAWS employees worked hard behind the scenes to help everyone reach an understanding – only a few weeks before the transfer was due to take place the green light was finally given. Seida, Natasia and Milena would be able to travel to Bulgaria.
Bureaucracy extends trip to 35 hours
On January 25, 2009 a FOUR PAWS ambulance and a vet travelled to Belgrade. Early the next morning the rest of the team joined them. Unforeseen problems with the paperwork delayed the collection of the bears from the Roma families yet again. In darkness and bad weather loading the bears onto the transportation cages was extremely difficult. Milena, whose condition had been rated critical, and Seida, who was becoming increasingly stressed, were both scheduled to be taken in without sedation. In the end everything went well. Two Serbian officials, who were in charge of confiscating the bears, decided spontaneously to escort the convoy to the border due to continuing uncertainty regarding the export permits.
Showdown at the border
Passing the four border gates turned into a showdown which indicated the fierceness of the political dispute between the two countries. Despite the intervention of the two accompanying government officials the vehicles got stuck at the first gate because the updated documents had not been forwarded by the authorities. Similar problems re-occurred at almost every post. Intensive efforts by FOUR PAWS officials and pressure from the concerned ministries of both countries finally enabled the journey to continue after 24 hours. The animals were fed and remained calm.
The healing power of appropriate keeping
On the night of January 28, 2009 the bear ambulance finally arrived at the DANCING BEAR PARK Belitsa. At Belitsa all bears were relieved of the rings piercing their extremely important and sensitive noses. At the modern medical centre at the bear park all three animals were attended to. Milena’s condition is particularly alarming – her teeth have been destroyed by malnutrition, as is very common among former dancing bears. However a life appropriate to their species can work wonders. Convalescence does the bears good and they eventually abandon their stereotypical behavior.