BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa
A FOUR PAWS cooperation project in Bulgaria since 2000
BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa (former DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa) is located in the Rila Mountains. The sanctuary is run in cooperation with the French FONDATION BRIGITTE BARDOT and is currently funded by both organizations. Most of the bears in this sanctuary were former "dancing bears" from Bulgaria, Serbia, and Albania. Dancing bears have been common in Europe since the 19th century and describe bears that have been captured at a young age, or bred in captivity, and then forced to entertain people by performing tricks. The bears were trained with brutal methods, such as being made to stand on hot metal plates beneath their feet to learn how to "dance" and by inserting painful metal rings through the bears’ highly sensitive noses and jaws. These rings were attached to a chain, which made it possible for their owners to force their will onto the animals and control them. The cruel training was finally banned in Bulgaria in 1998, but the practice continued until 2007, when FOUR PAWS rescued the last "dancing bears" and brought them to their forever, species-appropriate home at BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa.
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Back in 2000, when DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa was founded, the name was chosen to follow the mission to rescue the remaining "dancing bears". Today, after the tradition of "dancing bears" has been ended for good, the sanctuary has been renamed BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa with the purpose to rescue bears from private captivity and substandard zoos, and to enable them to have a happy new life that they deserve.
Although it is mostly former "dancing bears" who live at the sanctuary, other rescued brown bears have also found a suitable, lifelong home here. The sanctuary offers its inhabitants dense forests and hills for roaming and seclusion, meadows and specially designed sunny places for rest, ponds for swimming, and artificial dens for those bears who do not dig their own hibernation caves. At BEAR SANCTUARY Belitsa, the bears can rediscover their instincts and behave naturally again.