Animals … who doesn’t love them? We all want to see them close by. Cuddling the babies while interacting with the full grown wild animals are dreams most of us are cherishing ever since childhood.
Unfortunately businessmen are taking advantage from our weak hearts and those poor animals.
Wild tigers are caught and kept caged and drugged so tourists can safely touch them and take pictures with them. Baby elephants are mistreated severely so we can ride their backs and can enjoy interaction what we experience as friendship. Baby desert foxes are grabbed away from their parents and used by tourists to take pictures. After they aren’t cute and fluffy anymore they are released back into the desert with low chances on survival.
And in the Balkans and Albania they use bears … they make them dance, you can take your picture with them and in some cases restaurant owners even let you feed them coffee or Rakija.
In he last years government has gone through a lot of effort to stop this behaviour.
But one big problem rises: Bears that are kept hostage like this lose all instincts on how to feed themselves, they bite, are passive and worst of all; having lived amongst humans most of their lives makes them return to cities which is dangerous.
Therefore sanctuaries are being built. But without our help government is up to an impossible challenge. So how can we fullfill our dreams about animal interaction without hurting the ones that need our protection?
Here are our best picks on how to enjoy the bears of the Balkan without causing them damage.
Be a volunteer (or visitor) in one of the bear sanctuaries you can find in the Balkans.
Over the years the Balkans have established some sanctuaries to reintroduce bears again to wild live. These are big wild areas with greens, rocks and water where bears can live naturally but fenced so they can’t return to humans. A team of caretakers make sure they eat and stay in good health.
They also function as a kind of big specialised FREE zoo where visitors can see the animals while taking a walk around. It is not as close up and it sure takes a search sometimes but volunteers will help you find them.
Each year they ask for volunteers to guide visitors, open cafés to raise extra funds, fix fences or simply care for the bears.
BEST BEAR SANCTUARIES
* Bear Sanctuary Prishtina, Kosovo: a very new and more elaborate sanctuary, they are also sheltering animals from Albania.
* Bear Sanctuary Kuterevo, Croatia: a really boho and unique spot with volunteers from all over the world.
* Dancing Bear Park Belitsa, Bulgarija: a park where the bears don’t need to dance anymore, you can visit with very knowledgeable guides.
Take a hike in the mountains.
If you really want to see the animals in their natural habitat you can take a hike through the beautiful mountains and forests. The Balkans are beautiful and will treat you to some spectacular sights. However, if your intention is to spot the bears, you need to be in the right places at the right times.
Bears usually are most active around dusk and dawn. Late afternoon is the time they often take their baths. To know about the best spots, make sure to ask the park rangers, they are more than qualified to help you get the best views.
Because you will need to be in de mountains at crazy times camping or a mountain hut is the perfect solution.
BEST BEAR SPOTTING PARKS:
* Gorski Kotar, Croatia: Not very known around people, but the Plitvice Lakes that are part of it will probably ring a bell. In this national park you will have the best chance of encountering wild bears. There is even a path called: Bear Path.
* Tara National Park, Serbia: One of the prettiest regions of Serbia, clear waters, high mountains, forests and of course bears. Since it isn’t yet ‘contaminated’ by tourists, getting round is harder, but also worth it. Make sure to find a guide or detailed description on where to hike.
* Theth National Park, Albania: One of the most remote places in Europe, great wild life, hospitality and clear waters for a swim. Again, make sure to inform the ranger of what you are up to: for the best bear spotting options and for safety.
Whatever your plans are, my best suggestion is always to talk to the locals, they usually are happy to meet some ‘exotic’ people and you will get the best tips.
Just like that we had the chance to meet some bear cubs a few years ago. We were staying in a totally remote village (didn’t even have a dust road to get there) when we were talking to a ranger after a day of hiking. We told him how we were looking for wild bears for some time already.
Immediately he explained us how a co-worker kept two cubs at his farm. They found the cubs hungry with their death mother in a nest 4 months earlier and saved them. Though they were incredibly cute, they could not be released into the wild anymore. We were just in time to meet them before they would be deported to a big sanctuary in Scandinavia specialised in grizzlies.
Amazing, cruelty free animal interaction can happen and the best way to get there is talk to locals and rangers.