DECEMBER 7, 2022 – On 7 December, FOUR PAWS has successfully rescued the last so-called ‘restaurant bear’ in Albania. 24-year-old brown bear Mark is on the way to his new home, BEAR SANCTUARY Arbesbach in Austria, where he should arrive on 9 December. Mark was kept as a tourist attraction next to a restaurant in Tirana for over 20 years. After suffering two decades in a tiny cage with concrete floors, unable to live out any natural behaviors, he needs proper care urgently.
While Mark’s rescue is a significant milestone, bears in Albania are still in danger of being abused as pets or tourist attractions in the future without a change in legislation. Moreover, big cats are illegally traded and suffering in poor private keeping conditions in Albania. FOUR PAWS advocates for a total ban on the private keeping of bears and big cats, a local, species-appropriate sanctuary for confiscated wild animals as well as legal measures to combat the growing illegal wildlife trade.
After the FOUR PAWS team sedated and freed Mark from his cage, a medical check by the accompanying wildlife veterinarian ensured he is fit to travel. Now Mark is on the way to his new home, from Albania to Austria through North Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.
In his far-too-small cage, Mark was exposed to heat and extreme weather conditions. He had no place to retreat and was constantly exposed to the stares of restaurant visitors. He has never been able to hibernate either. The restaurant owner handed Mark into the care of FOUR PAWS voluntarily and has agreed in writing that no bears will ever suffer at the restaurant again.
“Mark spent more than 20 years in a barren cage that is much too small and lacks materials to keep him busy and stimulated. Due to boredom and stress, he displays abnormal behaviours, including repetitive pacing and biting on the metal bars of his cage. He is severely overweight, his teeth are partially broken, and the way he moves indicates that he needs further examination and treatment. Soon our team in Arbesbach will provide Mark with necessary veterinary treatments, proper care and species-appropriate food so he can hopefully recover and enjoy a bear-worthy life,"
Magdalena Scherk-Trettin, Wild Animals Rescue & Advocacy Senior Project Manager
FOUR PAWS will continue to push Albanian authorities to further improve wild animal welfare, including captive bears. According to own investigations, as well as information FOUR PAWS has received, Mark was the very last ‘restaurant bear’ in Albania. However, the private keeping of bears is still legal if an animal was born in captivity and if certain legal requirements are met.
"No private person should be allowed to keep a bear or any other wild animal. A ban on the private keeping of bears and other wild animal species is the only solution to prevent the suffering and exploitation of these animals. We urge the authorities to also implement actions to combat the illegal wildlife trade, which has picked up speed in the country in recent years. Our work in Albania is far from over,” says Sajmir Shehu, FOUR PAWS project coordinator in Albania.
FOUR PAWS and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment in Albania are jointly preparing a new Memorandum of Understanding, which is aimed to enhance cooperation in legal amendment, legal enforcement and also includes that the Albanian authorities establish a wild animal sanctuary in the country that would facilitate the confiscation of illegally kept animals.
BEAR SANCTUARY Arbesbach provides rescued bears a life-long home in a near-natural habitat since 1998. It was the first FOUR PAWS bear and was expanded in 2009. Mark is the first new arrival at the Austrian bear sanctuary since 2015. Including him, currently four bears are living on more than 14,000 m². Located in an eastern region of Austria called ‘Waldviertel’ (forest quarter) known for its unspoilt, rural landscape, the sanctuary offers space for the bears to express their natural behaviors, like bathing, digging, roaming, climbing and retiring in caves, either to hide and snooze, or hibernate in the winter.
Here you can find out more about the work of FOUR PAWS in Albania: https://saddestbears.four-paws.org/southeast-europe-campaign/bears-in-albania
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization 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 organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects 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. www.fourpawsusa.org