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Help for bears in Albania: FOUR PAWS and ministry seal cooperation

Agreement signed in Kosovo for BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina


March 23 2016 BOSTON, MA - The private ownership of bears in inadequate keeping conditions remains a complex enforcement and logistics issue across the Balkan states. Kosovo saw increased penalties for illegal bear ownership in the last three years. Unfortunately, in neighboring Albania, a large number of bears still suffer in inadequate conditions. Last weekend, FOUR PAWS’ founder Heli Dungler and the Albanian Minister of Environment, Lefter Koka, signed a memorandum of understanding. Both parties will jointly work on a sustainable and animal-friendly solutions for brown bears, a species often captured and abused for profit and entertainment purposes.


Heli Dungler, founder and president of FOUR PAWS stated, “In Albania there are still approximately up to 80 bears leading a miserable existence in captivity. We are very happy to offer our support and long-term experience in bear management to the Albanian government and hope that with joint forces we can improve the situation of the bears in the country. Our long-term goal is to completely end cruel private keeping like it was achieved in Kosovo.”


Abusive practices are not the only problem in the region. Almost all bears in private keeping in Albania have been illegally captured as cubs from the wild. Consequently, the wild bear population is estimated at approximately 250 animals and remains endangered.


Brown bears living in the wild in Albania are already protected by law, but violations are usually either not prosecuted or nominal fines imposed. There is no official data available about the actual number of bears in captivity and the country lacks accommodation possibilities for wild animals taken from bad keeping conditions. This is why, in a first step, the penal system shall be tightened and a registration system for brown bears in captivity as well as a concept for a bear sanctuary shall be developed. Moreover, the already existing law protecting native fauna shall be extended to also cover all forms of cruel private keeping.


Lefter Koka, Minister of Environment of Albania: “First, we want to focus on ending the most cruel forms of bear keeping in Albania. There are many bears abused to attract tourists, for example in tiny cages near restaurants, on beaches or near famous sights. We want to strengthen the image of Albania as a responsible tourism destination, where cruelty towards animals has no legitimate place.”


Most privately kept bears are being used for profit or entertainment purposes kept in cages or on chains close to hotels and restaurants or in backyards for private amusement. During summer months, they also serve as “photo props” for tourists on beaches or in pedestrian areas. Often the bears are fixed with a chain through the nose to bend them to their owners will.


The signing took place in the scope of a larger event at the FOUR PAWS BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina in Kosovo. The festival celebrated the groundbreaking for a new enclose at the sanctuary as well as enlargements of the already existing areas. The animal welfare organisation thus creates the possibility to rescue more bears from bad keeping conditions – also bears from Albania could be provided with a new, species-appropriate home there.


Expansion of BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina

At the moment 16 bears at BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina live in an area of 5 hectares in total. In the upcoming third construction phase, already existing enclosures will be enlarged, but also a completely new enclosure will be added. The existing enclosures will be provided with a larger range of enrichment for the bears and a new visitor and education centre, which will help spread public awareness about animal welfare issues and conservation.


The date of the groundbreaking celebration at the sanctuary was set on the 19th of March because this is also the third anniversary of the rescue of “restaurant bear” Kassandra – the first bear, who received a new home at the sanctuary. Twelve more restaurant bears followed suit and were rescued then brought to the BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina with the support of the Kosovo government the same year.


Kosovo has turned out to be a best practice example where joint forces from the government and FOUR PAWS made a national solution to end illegal private keeping of bears possible. All parties involved will work hard to repeat a similar success in Albania as well.