Two brown bear cubs held close to a restaurant in Albania

Commercial wildlife trade in Albania still out of control

FOUR PAWS discovers dozens of cases of abused and exploited big cats and bears


Vienna, 1 February 2024 – In 2023 and the first weeks of 2024, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS uncovered alarming evidence of animal abuse in Albania. More than 27 documented cases reveal the exploitation of big cats, predominantly lion cubs, and other wild animals for trade, as pets, for selfies, and local business promotion, such as fitness clubs. The uncontrolled private keeping and commercial trade of wild animals persist in Albania, with wild animals being advertised on online platforms and social media, featured in music videos, and abused as entertainment for restaurant or hotel guests. This out-of-control situation raises concern that unlicensed facilities engage in large-scale breeding and trading of big cats in Albania. FOUR PAWS urges the responsible authorities to take action, and advocates for legislative improvements, including a complete ban on the private keeping of bears and big cats.

A recent case is two bear cubs originating from the wild that were found in illegal private keeping at a hotel and restaurant in National Park Tomorr and disappeared before they could be rescued. FOUR PAWS was made aware of this case early September 2023, and since then pushed the local authorities to confiscate and relocate the bear cubs from the private property, as their keeping was against Albanian law. Brown bears are a native and protected species in Albania. Taking them from the wild to keep them in captivity is illegal. FOUR PAWS was ready to support the rescue and take in the bear cubs at one of its species-appropriate bear sanctuaries, but the Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment failed to react in time and enforce the law. As a result, the cubs have apparently disappeared from the private property, and their fate and whereabouts remains uncertain.

"In spite of assurances from the responsible authorities to prioritise a solution for the bear cubs, their sudden disappearance after months of inaction is deeply disappointing. We hold the Ministry fully responsible for this disheartening incident which could have been prevented. It is the duty of the Albanian state to ensure the conservation of native bears and protect wild animals from being abused illegally. The recent case of the vanished bear cubs, along with other ongoing cases, highlight the need for comprehensive action in Albania. Additional to animal welfare concerns, there is a potential threat to local communities who are unaware of the presence of illegally kept dangerous animals in their neighbourhood. In collaboration with the authorities, we must prevent any more bears and wild animals from falling into illegal and cruel captivity”

Barbara van Genne, Director of the Wild Animals department at FOUR PAWS

Sustainable solutions needed to stop the exploitation of wild animals

In recent years, FOUR PAWS has observed a growing trend of big cats being illegally traded, kept and bred in Southeast Europe. In particular, the considerable number of big cats detected in private captivity in Albania is extremely worrying. FOUR PAWS estimates that 60 to 80 big cats are currently kept illegally in Albania – a shockingly high number given Albania’s population size.  Most cases of exploitation, illegal private keeping and abuse of wild animals is detected via social media, which makes it particularly hard to track. Not only did the two bear cubs in National Park Tomorr disappear without a trace, there is also little information about the fate of other big cats FOUR PAWS knows about. In addition, FOUR PAWS believes there are indications of an international network of both legal and illegal trade, with possible links and connections to other countries, specifically Serbia. FOUR PAWS has raised all these cases and issues with the responsible Albanian Ministry of Tourism and Environment on many occasions, however, there was only little reaction and no action at all taken.

“We have been fighting to address the cruel commercial trade of tigers in the European Union since 2018 and their unlicensed keeping and breeding. The announcement by the EU of the EU Tiger Guidance released last year is a positive step and crucial to improve controls of the captive tiger population and trade once implemented by Member States and can also be adopted by future members. It can have a knock-on effect on illegal trade, and it can serve as an example for other species. In addition, we urge the Albanian national authorities to finally establish a local wild animal sanctuary in order to make law enforcement and the accommodation of seized and confiscated wild animals possible,” says van Genne.

FOUR PAWS rescued the last ‘restaurant bear’ in Albania, according to its own research as well as information received at the time, in 2022. Bear Mark’s rescue was a huge milestone for animal welfare in Albania, however, the case of the disappeared bear cubs shows there is still much work to be done. The impact of this historic rescue will only be maintained if the authorities stay vigilant in improving animal welfare regulations and better protection of wild animals.

Bears in Albania


Read more about our work in Albania

Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations

+43 (0) 664 885 33 270

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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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. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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