Bear Iva at her old enclosure in North Macedonia

FOUR PAWS Transfers Rescued Bear from North Macedonia to Bulgaria

BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa welcomes Iva in species-appropriate surroundings 


Vienna, 21 September 2022 – On 20 September, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has transferred brown bear Iva from North Macedonia to its BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, which it runs together with Fondation Brigitte Bardot in Bulgaria.

After her former owner handed Iva into the care of FOUR PAWS, they brought her to a temporary location in Skopje in August. This was urgent as the condition of her enclosure was unsafe and proving a high breakout risk.

After spending all her life in an enclosure inadequate for a bear’s needs, Iva has arrived safely at her new species-appropriate home. She will now receive all the care she needs to live a bear-worthy life. Iva might even reunite with an old friend from the past – bear Teddy, who also lives at the Bulgarian sanctuary.

Although Iva is only six years old, her story is a tragic one: As a young bear, she was found alone and handed over to a private owner in Skopje who had kept her in his backyard since.

“Iva’s enclosure was too small and offered unsuitable conditions. It was also not safe enough for an adult bear. There was a risk that she could break out and endanger herself and people. This is once again a case that shows that wild animals should not be kept as pets. Private owners cannot fulfil the high requirements that wild animals such as brown bears need,”

Barbara van Genne, responsible for Wild Animal Rescue and Advocacy at FOUR PAWS

There are no suitable places in North Macedonia where she could live in species-appropriate conditions and among other bears, therefore FOUR PAWS brought her to Bulgaria after her former owner gave her up voluntarily. Since she grew up in captivity, Iva cannot be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. A first health check showed her overall condition is good.

“Iva is now in a safe place at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, where she belongs. Her rescue and transfer went smoothly and according to plan, for which we wish to thank the Bulgarian, Greek and Macedonian authorities for their cooperation,” says Dimitar Ivanov, Site Manager of BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, who accompanied Iva’s transfer from Skopje to Belitsa via Greece.

Iva shares past with bear Teddy, who was also rescued by FOUR PAWS

Iva’s transfer to BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa will likely also bring about a reunion of former companions. Until autumn 2017, Iva was kept in the same estate together with another bear, Teddy, but he was later handed over to Shtip Zoo and Iva was left all alone. FOUR PAWS rescued Teddy from Shtip Zoo in November 2020 and he has been living at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa ever since.

As Iva needs to get adjusted to her new home and winter approaches, where many bears hibernate, it will not immediately be possible to socialise her with her potential future companions, Teddy and Riku. The team at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa will monitor Iva’s development closely and is planning the exciting reunion with Teddy for spring next year.

BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa: A home for rescued bears in Southeast Europe

BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, which was formerly called DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, is located in the Rila Mountains in Western Bulgaria and run by FOUR PAWS in cooperation with Fondation Brigitte Bardot since 2000. Most of the 19 brown bears that currently live on 12 hectares of nature-like surroundings were former dancing bears from Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania. The sanctuary also provides a species-appropriate home for bears rescued from other forms of inappropriate keeping. Visitors receive comprehensive information about the sad conditions in which the bears suffered before they were rescued, as well as about the main natural requirements of brown bear species and their conservation.

By rescuing Iva, FOUR PAWS not only aims to significantly improve this individual bear's life, but also to continue its efforts to end the cruel illegal captivity of brown bears in North Macedonia as part of the #saddestbears Southeast Europe initiative. For more information see also here.

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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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