7th May 2019 – New start for the three orphaned brown bears Radostina, Jonas and Mitko that made international headlines in April 2018 after being found alone in the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria. On 6th May 2019, the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters, supported by international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS and the team from the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa sanctuary, released the bear trio in the Central Balkan National Park. The release of the bears, now 15 months old, was preceded by a year of intensive wilderness preparation at a specialised Greek sanctuary. All three siblings were equipped with GPS transmitters to monitor their behaviour and adaptation to their new environment.
When the two males Jonas and Mitko and their sister Radostina were found in the Rhodope Mountains on 21st April 2018, their age was estimated to be around three months. There was no trace of their mother, who is believed to have fallen victim to poachers. First, the bear siblings were accommodated at the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, which is funded by FOUR PAWS and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. After a month of intensive care, the brown bears were strong enough to be transferred to the Greek bear sanctuary Arcturos. The team there is specialised in rehabilitating orphaned bear cubs and preparing them for release back into the wild. Now a year later, the bear trio has returned to Bulgaria. On 5th May 5, 2019, they started their ten-hour journey in a special bear transporter going from Greece to the Bulgarian Central Balkan National Park. There, the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters, together with FOUR PAWS and the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, released the bears in the early morning hours on the 6th of May.
“At the age of 15 months and around 50 kilos each, the bears are now old and strong enough to survive alone in the wild. Thanks to the attached GPS transmitters, we can keep an eye on them from a distance and watch their progress. The place of their release was carefully chosen. The area is mountainous, densely wooded, and guarded by rangers. Moreover, there is no competition from other adult brown bears in the region. That is the biggest threat to young bears living without their mother in the wild.”
Dimitar Ivanov, site manager of the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa
Bulgaria: home to many bears
Bulgaria is one of the few European countries with a stable population of wild brown bears. According to the latest research, between 500 and 1,000 brown bears live in the two largest mountain ranges in Bulgaria – the Balkan Mountains and the Rila-Rhodope Mountains. Many of the bears migrate to neighbouring countries, such as Greece, Serbia, and North Macedonia.
DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa: protection for bears in need
The 12-hectare wide DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa is located in the Bulgarian Rila Mountains and is the largest bear sanctuary in the Balkans. It was opened in 2000 and is financed by FOUR PAWS and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. Initially, the sanctuary provided housing for only former dancing bears from Bulgaria. After 2007, when all Bulgarian dancing bears were confiscated, the sanctuary then started rescuing dancing bears from other Balkan countries, such as Serbia and Albania, as well as bears from Bulgarian substandard zoos. Currently, 25 rescued bears live in species-appropriate, spacious enclosures with dense forests and ponds in the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa.
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, 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, 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, Hungary, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org