Libearty Bear Sanctuary
In 1998 a Romanian woman, Cristina Lapis, saw 3 bears in a small cage outside a restaurant in central Romania where they were used to attract customers. She later found more bears used in a similar way in other areas of the country. Her dream was to rescue these distressed animals and to change public attitudes to stop this cruel and illegal exploitation of one of Romania’s magnificent native animals.
Now that dream is being realised, with over 70 bears enjoying a new life in the Libearty Bear Sanctuary – 70 hectares of oak and hazel forest in the Carpathian Mountains above the Transylvanian town of Zarnesti.
Here, the bears climb trees, swim in the pools and forage on the vegetation. For many of them, having been caught from the wild as cubs, this is a new and stimulating experience.
The Romanian bear sanctuary has helped to create better awareness of the issues affecting bears in Romania. The Romanian public, media and also the authorities have now taken this project to their hearts. The sanctuary has given new life to once-captive bears and is a symbol of optimism for the protection of Romania’s rich natural environment.
Creation and management of the Libearty Bear Sanctuary
The day-to-day management of the bear sanctuary, including the rescue and care of the bears and all general maintenance around the sanctuary is undertaken by Cristina Lapis’s organisation – Milioane de Prieteni (Millions of Friends), which is based in Brasov, Romania.
The land for the sanctuary, 160 acres (70 hectares) of oak and hazel forest, was donated by the Municipality of Zarnesti, a small town in central Transylvania, 25 km south of Brasov.
The sanctuary was created with funding from a variety of sources, including from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) who also designed the sanctuary and helped train the staff.
The Need for the Bear Sanctuary
The sanctuary was created because of the need to rescue over 50 bears found suffering in small and rusted cages around the country where they had been used as pets or as attractions for restaurants and petrol stations. The bears were all caught from the wild as cubs and had lived all their lives in confined cages with a poor diet and little or no veterinary care. This practice of keeping captive bears was illegal in Romania but until the bear sanctuary was created the authorities were unable to confiscate these bears due to the lack of facilities available to care for such rescued animals.
In 2007 Romania joined the European Union and that brought new laws including the EU Zoo Directive – which meant all zoos in Romania had to come up to a certain standard of animal management. Many zoos could not comply and the bears in these zoos faced euthanasia – but were saved by being re-homed in the bear sanctuary.
The sanctuary construction started in 2005, and today there are over 70 rescued bears living in several large forested enclosures measuring around 66 acres (27 hectares) in total. These forested areas contain large fresh water pools, hibernation dens and hundreds of trees with lush natural vegetation.
A large central sanctuary building contains staff areas, storage and preparation areas for food for the bears, the veterinary clinic and a number of quarantine dens for new or sick bears. Although the bears feed on the vegetation, nuts and berries available in the forest they do need additional food and the sanctuary staff distribute over a tonne of fruit and vegetables a day around the sanctuary enclosures.
The sanctuary has CCTV cameras on all fences so the staff can monitor the behaviour of the bears and also keep an eye on any visitors to the sanctuary.
Organised tours of visitors can be guided around the sanctuary while being told the story of the bear rescues. The bears live in large forested areas and it is their choice whether to stay inside the forest or come out to rest or play in the open meadow areas and pools. This is not a zoo and the welfare of the bears is the priority, but many bears are seen playing and resting near to the fences so visitors generally are able to see these magnificent animals from a safe distance.
School Visits and Wildlife Awareness
Schools throughout Romania now send classes of children to the sanctuary to learn about the bears and about wildlife protection in general. The sight of bears climbing trees, playing in the water pools or just lazing in the meadows, gives the children a far better understanding of the true nature of the animals than any concrete zoo could ever do.
It is hoped that future donations will allow an education centre to be developed near to the sanctuary to encourage further studies into wildlife protection and animal welfare, and to develop more outreach education programmes in Romania.
Do you want to visit the Romanian bear sanctuary?
The Libearty bear sanctuary – based in the oak forests above the town of Zarnesti in central Transylvania is now open to visitors. They have guides to show round groups of visitors on a daily basis and you can see the rescued bears enjoying life in the forested sanctuary areas.
But if you want to make a visit you first have to contact the Romanian bear sanctuary office which is based in Brasov. Tell them when you want to visit – and give them at least a few days’ notice to be sure they have space for you in their daily tour.
Their contact details are:
email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: +40 268 471 202
or see their web site for details at: http://ampbears.ro/en/bear-sanctuary
You can help by making a donation direct to the Romanian bear sanctuary at: http://www.ampbears.ro/
or to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) who are supporting the rescue and care of bears at the Romanian sanctuary. http://www.wspa.org.uk