In 2016, the international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS began its work in Albania to save the 'saddest bears in Europe' from poor conditions in captivity. Although much has been achieved in the last year, current research shows that there is still a desperate need for action. Around 20 bears are still being kept, mainly for entertainment purposes, and are suffering in squalid living conditions which in no way meet their needs as a species. FOUR PAWS has called on the Albanian government to act urgently in order to save these animals.
The situation for captive bears in Albania is still critical. Recent research conducted by the international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS documents new, serious cases.
"It is always shocking to see how bears are treated here. For example, in the popular hotel 'Thethi Paradise' in Theth in northern Albania, two bear cubs are kept to entertain tourists. It must be assumed that the bears did not just appear at the hotel owner's doorstep, but were illegally removed from the wild," explained FOUR PAWS wild animal expert Thomas Pietsch.
When the two male cubs are not displayed for entertainment purposes, they normally live in a small, barren shed. A similarly drastic situation is that of a young bear that appeared recently in a music video by well-known Albanian artist Mozzik.
"There is a tragic fate behind every sweet young bear. We assume that his mother was poached, and that the little bear now has to live in conditions unsuited to its species," Pietsch continued.
The suffering of these three bears is by no means an isolated case. Although 22 bears were rescued in Albania last year, FOUR PAWS estimates that around 20 bears are still held in similarly bad conditions.
"Sadly, an end to the suffering is not yet in sight. The supply of young bears continues unabated. Only strict and consistent penalties for poachers, traders and owners will solve this issue."
Thomas Pietsch, FOUR PAWS wild animal expert
Cooperation with the Albanian Ministry of Environment
In order to protect bears in Albania sustainably, FOUR PAWS calls on the new government to introduce a clear legal prohibition on the cruel keeping of bears by private owners and to consistently enforce existing laws on the protection of bears in the wild and in captivity. In addition, provisions must be made for the construction of a state-owned bear sanctuary.
Cooperation between FOUR PAWS and the Albanian Ministry of Environment has already helped to save many bears. Some have been transferred to the FOUR PAWS project BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina in neighbouring Kosovo. Among others, chained bear Pashuk, 'restaurant bear' Gjina and bear Tomi who was forced to drink beer to entertain tourists, have all found a home in the sanctuary. Bear Jeta, displayed for selfies, was also rescued from Albania and has been placed in the Bulgarian sanctuary DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa.
"Collaboration with the government has yielded good results so far. Now we hope that the new Minister for Environment and Tourism will continue the successful partnership."
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.
Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.
With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in 12 countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.au