"The Rescued Ones: 20 Years of History" exhibition in the European Parliament

Four Paws Officially Opens Photo Exhibition at European Parliament

"The Rescued Ones: 20 Years of History" highlights the transformative journey of rescued bears at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa in Bulgaria


Brussels/Vienna, 20 March 2024 – The exhibition, “The Rescued Ones: 20 Years of History”, officially opened yesterday and will continue to welcome guests at Spinelli Building at the European Parliament until 22 March 2024. It is a testament to the united efforts of citizens and institutions and emphasises the collective human responsibility that has the power to change the world and make it a better place for humans and animals alike. With the exhibition at the European Parliament, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS marks an important milestone in the history of BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, which it runs in cooperation with Fondation Brigitte Bardot, reaffirming the sanctuary's mission to provide rescued brown bears with a second chance. Moreover, it highlights the continued need for a collective effort to end the suffering and exploitation of wild animals in the commercial wildlife trade or the fur industry in the EU and beyond.

Among the official guests of the exhibition are Dr. Ventseslava Taseva - Director of FOUR PAWS Bulgaria, Dimitar Ivanov - Director of BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, Denitsa Slavova - Head of Communications at FOUR PAWS Bulgaria, Mayor of Belitsa Radoslav Revanski, Ilhan Kyuchyuk – MEP “Renew Europe” group, as well as a number of international guests, including Luciana D'Abramo - FOUR PAWS Chief Development Officer, Martin Hojsik - MEP “Renew Europe” group, Vice-President of the European Parliament, and Christophe Marie - Deputy Director of Fondation Brigitte Bardot.

In 20 photographs – a chronicle of the more than 20-year journey of the sanctuary and its inhabitants – the exhibition presents the lives of the bears of the BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, full of tragedy, but also of rescue and optimism. The exhibition reflects the evolution and mission of the sanctuary and captures compelling moments in the daily lives of its residents that serve as a testament to the sanctuary's resilience, compassion and transformative impact.

"’The Rescued Ones’ exhibition illuminates the journey of BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa and its inhabitants. It serves as a poignant reminder and call to action, urging us to recognise our collective responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of all animals. In Bulgaria, legislative strides have curbed bear abuse, yet global mistreatment of bears and other wild animals persists, necessitating ongoing action. Inconsistent legislation in the EU and beyond enables exploitation, perpetuating the wildlife trade. The transformative journey of the rescued bears at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa is symbolic for thousands of big cats that still fall victim to the commercial trade or millions of mink and raccoon dogs killed for their fur every year. For decades, FOUR PAWS has championed wild animal welfare across Europe, spotlighting the plight of wild animals and finding sustainable long-term solutions. Wild animals are not commodities for human amusement. If we come together with a shared purpose and goal, we can create a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding"

Luciana D’Abramo, Chief Development Officer at FOUR PAWS


Established through the joint efforts of FOUR PAWS and Fondation Brigitte Bardot, BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa first opened its doors in 2000. Its original mission was to provide a safe haven for all so-called “dancing bears“ in Bulgaria, as well as several bears from Serbia and Albania. The cruel practice of exploiting bears for entertainment purposes continued until 2007, when FOUR PAWS successfully rescued the last of these bears, marking the end of a cruel era. BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa is now a unique place in Bulgaria that offers a second chance to rescued brown bears. Set in a natural environment in a protected area stretching over 12 hectares, the sanctuary operates under a special design that closely resembles the natural habitat of brown bears. 

So far, the Bulgarian sanctuary has given dancing bears from different Balkan countries a chance for a new life. Today, BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa is a permanent home for 17 bears that have been affected by human activity, including those kept in captivity or in inappropriate conditions. Dedicated care for the bears’ welfare is entrusted to the team of experienced professionals from FOUR PAWS Bulgaria who work tirelessly all year round. Their dedicated commitment ensures that the bears at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa receive the care and attention they deserve, thriving in a protected and natural environment.

Katharina Braun

Katharina Braun

Team Lead Public Relations


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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. www.four-paws.org

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