Saving Kosovo's Bears

13 images Created 23 Oct 2021

Animal conservation in Europe (Deutsche Welle - 2017)

The treetops are shaking, as Mal joyfully wrestles with a delicate tree on a lush green hillside not far from Kosovo’s capital Pristina. The bear who spent the majority of his life inside inappropriate concrete housing is one of 19 bears currently taken care of in the Bear Sanctuary Prishtina.

The sanctuary, which was established by Four Paws, the Kosovar Ministry of Environment as well as the municipality of Pristina, is a 16-hectare preserve located in a green valley near Lake Badovc. The compound is divided into several big permanent enclosures that aim to recreate the living conditions of the wild. The enclosures therefore feature several dens, forest areas, shade-providing underbrush and ponds.

Brown bears are among the world’s largest carnivores and fully grown animals have few natural enemies… Except for humans, who have extensively contributed to a decline in their numbers by hunting them and robbing them of their habitat. Today’s worldwide population of brown bears is estimated to lie between 185,000 and 200,000 animals.
As such, unlike other bear species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature does not consider brown bears to be at risk of worldwide extinction and lists them as being of  "least-concern".  

In the outskirts of Pristina, traces of the dubious mistreatment of bears as attractions for restaurants are still evident. Visible from the highway, a big advertising panel depicting the silhouette of a bear leads to a restaurant. Just next to the restaurant’s parking lot is a battered cage. Not long ago, guests were greeted here by a group of five bears, kept in a space not even adequate for one.

In June 2013, after finishing the construction of some of the first enclosures, Four Paws began the evacuation of privately kept bears, including the five from the aforementioned restaurant. In conjunction with the Kosovar Police and NATO peacekeepers, a total of 16 bears were rescued. All of them are now taken care of at the reserve.

Upon arrival, all bears are sterilized to prevent reproduction for the simple reason that the site is not a zoo but a place where rescued bears can live in conditions closer to their natural needs.

Bears roam and can have a home range of several hundred square kilometers. Given that some 53 percent of Kosovo’s 10,900 m² expanse is given over to agriculture, plus factoring in population and livestock density in rural areas, it is likely that a release into the wild would result in human-wildlife conflict. Surveys conclude that the actual economic damage caused by wild bears is often less significant than that caused by other wild animals, still interference with humans is reasonably considered a threat for both and therefore meets little acceptance.

As of today, there are no more privately kept bears in Kosovo and the continuous promotion and awareness of animal rights in Eastern European countries is finding fertile soil.
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