A short drive east from Prishtina brings you to the Four Paws Bear Sanctuary. Here, staff are quietly getting on with the highly unusual task of rescuing brown bears. Many of them were so-called ‘restaurant bears’ kept in cages to be visitor attractions, or else they are bears previously owned as ‘pets’. It seems extraordinary in this day and age, that these amazing animals are still enduring years of trauma, chained or held in cages that are far too small for them to move around. Sometimes the mother is killed so the cubs can be snatched at an early age. As cubs need their mother’s training to enable them to forage and survive, the effect on them is life long. They will never go back to the wild, in any sense.
Here are some caged bear cubs we saw a year ago, outside a hotel in Albania. We were horrified. The cage was situated on a hot jetty, with no shade. They were chewing each
other’s ears in a strange, obsessive way and making a weird mewling noise.
So thank goodness there are places like Four Paws. Here, newly rescued animals are introduced into larger spaces, and then into reserves similar to a bear’s natural habitat with water holes and shady cover. The staff told us they find various ways to stimulate the bears, such as hiding the food from some of the more established ones, to get them to forage and rediscover their natural instincts. The work also includes seeking out bears still in need of rescue, mostly from surrounding countries, as all the bears from Kosovo have, happily, been recovered.
If you visit the sanctuary you’ll see more than sixteen rescued bears all at various stages of rehabilitation. A panel near the entrance shows just how much it costs to feed one bear for a year: a whopping 3539 euros! Their diet includes fruit, veg, dog pellets, chestnuts and – yay! – honey. The good news is that the staff were able to trace those Albanian cubs. They have already been rescued, earlier in 2016, by a similar sanctuary in Greece called Arcturos. Hurrah!
The Bear Sanctuary Prishtina is open April- Oct 10.00-19.00hrs; Nov – March 10.00-16.00 hrs. Adults: 1.50 euro; children 0.50 euro. Donate and more at http://www.four-paws.org.uk