Bear Sanctuary In Transylvania Attracts Visitors For Guided Tours

by Sean Hillen

When news emerged that a member of a European royal family had shot what was believed to be the oldest bear in Romania a wave of anger ignited among many people.

That’s when the wonderful work of Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Tranyslvania, one of the largest animal welfare projects in Europe, became better known. That’s when I became a donor, paying a modest amount every month to help support this worthy cause.

Photos by Columbia Hillen

And now visitors to Romania can support this worthy project by enjoying special guided tours of the sanctuary, home to bears once held captive in circuses and zoo cages. The sanctuary is located in the village of Zărnești, a half hour’s drive from the charming city of Brasov in Transylvania.

“Playing the clown for a piece of bread,” was how an animal rights activist described the pre-sanctuary lives of bears. “People were keeping them as pets, they were kept at bread factories or gas stations for staff’s fun. Some of them were tormented. In contrast, this sanctuary is an oasis of peace for the animals away from dirty cages.” 

Guests enjoy a tour of the grounds and help support the survival of the bears.

Over 130 bears have already been rescued from an abusive nightmarish life, in tiny cages compared to the necessary space these animals need, held as prisoners behind rusty bars with cement under their paws instead of grass. So much did the bears suffer beforehand, they sometimes self-mutilated themselves out of sheer frustration about being cooped up in tiny cages, often without much air to breathe or food to eat. You can see during the tour, one of these iron cages in the sanctuary, with frustrated bears’ deep scratches on the metal.

Thankfully, in Romania in 2007 it became illegal to keep bears in captivity.

Without the sanctuary, this bear would still be in a cage, badly-fed, and lacking fresh air.

All the bears at the Zărnești sanctuary, which opened in 2005, have names. Yogi is the oldest at around 41, Bruni the youngest, one year old. All the bears are sterilised, so are non-aggressive and the sanctuary has special sick bay enclosures for the injured or ill. The bears are from several different countries including Armenia, Ukraine and the US. 

Some of the bears at the sanctuary are family members, such as Jimmy and Jacksie who are brother and sister, or Pick and Pock, who are brothers. Alicia and Max are both blind. 

About 60 per cent of bears in Europe, which can live to an average of 25, are in Romania. They can walk about 60-70 kilometers a day and can run around 25. Male bears weigh around 700 kilograms and females about 400. Newborns are about 400 grams.

The sanctuary, which lies in 69 hectares of oak forest, with trees where the bears can climb and swimming pools where they can splash, has high expenses and requires public funding, as it does not receive any government support aside from longterm lease on the land. Saving a captive bear from such bad conditions costs about 1,000 euro and two tones of food are needed each day to feed them, their diet being 80 per cent vegetables and 20 per cent meat. It costs around 20 euro a day to feed each bear. 

That’s why after visiting the sanctuary on a recent trip to Transylvania and seeing the excellent work being done there, my wife and I decided to provide monthly financial support.

You can adopt a bear for 60 for euros a year.

Enjoying companionship, open space and healthy food.

Next to the bear sanctuary, others areas of land domestic animals including once captive horses donkeys, as well as injured deer and wolves for Libearty Bear Sanctuary is a legacy of the Millions of Friends Association (AMP) founded in 1997 by Cristina Lapis. A former journalist from Brasov, she dedicated her life to save and care for animals. 

A curious cub.

Supported by her husband, Roger Lapis, former Honorary Consul of France in Romania, she created one of the first Non-Governmental Animal Welfare Organisations there. Since then, AMP has built up a strong team of vet specialists, transported and cared for animals and saved from suffering and death over 30,000 animals, most of them stray dogs, cats, horses, bears, wolves, foxes and deer.

In addition to guided tours, the sanctuary has an interesting souvenir shop. So, next time you are in Transylvania, instead of visiting Bran Castle, with its false links to Vlad Tepes and where most tourists go, why not drive the extra few minutes and visit Libearty Bear Sanctuary.

Believe me, it’s much more interesting, both for adults and children. And you’d be helping a very worthy animal welfare cause.

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