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Bear Who Lived On a Foot-Long Chain Has a New Home

FOUR PAWS brings Albanian bear Riku to sanctuary


BOSTON - MAY 18 2017 – For the young bear named Riku, whose short life has been marked by suffering, a happy new chapter in life is underway. After being seized from private ownership in Albania, Riku was brought first to temporary accomidations at a local zoo, then, most recently,  DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa in Bulgaria in early May. The bear sanctuary is jointly managed by FOUR PAWS, the international animal welfare organization, and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation.

After a short adaption period, Riku took his first steps into the natural environment outside of his enclosure.


Back in December 2016, FOUR PAWS received an urgent request for help from the Albanian Veterinary Inspectorate. In a mountain village in south-east Albania, a young bear was said to be in immediate danger. The owner had made it clear to the inspectors that he was no longer willing nor able to care for the animal. When the FOUR PAWS team arrived, they found the bear languishing on a short chain, no more than a foot long, confined to a small shack next to the owner’s house. He was very distressed, and in a constant panic to free himself from the tight chain. FOUR PAWS acted immediately and found Zoo Tirana willing to provide care for the bear temporarily.


On May 3rd, a FOUR PAWS team was in Tirana Zoo to transfer bear Riku safely to his new home in Bulgaria. After being sedated, the 2 year old bear got a short medical check and was loaded in the bear ambulance. This special vehicle for bear transports is equipped and licensed especially for long distance transports of wild animals. Due to international transport regulations, the team had to travel through Macedonia and Greece and arrived at DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa on May 4th (


“Riku was first released into the indoor area of his enclosure,” explained FOUR PAWS bear expert Carsten Hertwig. “Once he had recovered from his long journey and got used to his new environment, we released him into the outdoor enclosure. Watching him experience his new home was a wonderful moment for all of us. He was so relaxed and peaceful! Our aim is to eventually socialize Riku with other bears. When we can start this process though, entirely depends on his character and behavior.”


With the arrival of Riku, DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa now provides a species appropriate home to 20 former dancing bears, 4 bears from zoos, and 2 from private keeping. The park has approximately 12 hectares of land and living conditions necessary for the bears to meet their natural requirements. About half of the bears dig their own dens and the fact that many bears in Belitsa hibernate is a sign that the animals are doing well. Riku will soon be able to live this happy life as well.


Until now, FOUR PAWS and other NGOs dedicated to animal welfare and nature conservation, managed to rescue more than 20 Albanian bears from horrific keeping conditions and transfer them to wildlife sanctuaries in Greece, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and Kosovo. Among them are selfie bear Jeta, beer bear Tomi and chain bear Pashuk. These bears recovered quickly from their past ordeals and live like a bear should.


In Albania an estimated 40 captive brown bears still live in poor keeping conditions. The rescue and transfer of Riku is part of the FOUR PAWS campaign to save Albania’s saddest bears. Hertwig: “A lot has been achieved for bears in Albania since FOUR PAWS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Albanian Ministry of Environment in March 2016. But in fact much remains to be done to put an end to the inappropriate keeping of captive bears in Albania. Besides the creation of a sanctuary for bears in Albania FOUR PAWS also supports the official registration of all remaining captive bears and continues with awareness work to support the process for sustainable change.”


In order to achieve a long-term solution for all bears in Albania, FOUR PAWS is calling for and supports the consistent application of existing laws and the introduction of a ban on the cruel keeping of bears.


To further encourage the Albanian Environment Minister, FOUR PAWS launched an online petition which already has been signed by over a quarter of a million people around the world (