It was 1998 and in a small, damp cage near Bran Castle a poor soul was imprisoned. Maya, a sweet brown bear, was being held captive, for a lack of proper legislation, and almost left to die. This caught the attention and outrage of Cristina Lapis who, for four years straight, has visited Maya and cared for her. All of this, while fighting against the lackluster Romanian Animal Welfare legislation at the time. Unfortunately for Maya, she lost the fight in 2002. Her death, however, sparked the immediate need of a safe haven for the other brown bears in need.
But Maya was not the only bear in need. The touristic spots such as Bran or Peles Castles, restaurants and even roadside pit-stops had their own gruesome live entertainment in the form of chained brown bears or other wildlife. The owners kept the animals drugged and docile, thus attracting the unassuming flocks of tourists for a quick buck. But that was soon about to change…
The year 2004 brought the long overdue Animal Welfare Protection law that cracked down on the poor conditions the wild animals were living in. It also banned the inhumane use of wild animals for commercial purposes. It was almost the light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2005, The Millions of Friends Foundation, along with the Town Hall of Zarnesti and WAP (World Animal Protection) joined their efforts. The “Save the Bears” project was an ambitious European-wide effort to rescue and care for the captive brown bears. As such, the Libearty Bear Sanctuary emerged, located in a large, forested area of Zarnesti. It was a quiet spot, away from people, and the hustle and bustle. The perfect location for the brown bears to retire.
Here, 126 bears have been rescued from unimaginable conditions. At the Sanctuary, the dedicated personnel cared for the bears until they were healthy enough. Then, it was time to release them into their natural habitat, which was a challenge in itself as some of the bears have never felt grass before!
The bears are free to roam around the forests of the Sanctuary and play in the pools.
Today, the Sanctuary is home to 106 rescued bears. The bears can now freely bask in the sun, dig their shelters, swim lazily or climbs trees. Needless to say, it is the complete opposite of the life they once knew… the always wet and cold concrete, the rusty iron bars, the very little food and dirty water, the trainer’s whip, the blinding lights of the arenas, or the commotion of the people.
Libearty is the house where two bear sisters, Dasha and Katia, met for the first time in 24 years. Or Masha and Grisha, two bears abandoned in a private menagerie in Armenia, who somehow survived even though they weighed as much as a medium-sized dog. Lydia, the nice old lady-bear, was the first one to be rescued from a small cage next to a restaurant. There’s also Bim and Bam, two orphaned cubs found in the woods and bottle-fed by the wonderful Libearty team. Hansel, Graeme, Mura, all found their home here along with many more.
As you will walk the gravel pathway along the sanctuary, you will hear all their tales. But none as sad as the story of the late Max. You could always see Max, the blind but gentle giant, happily playing with his favourite toy, a stick. However, behind the wholesome image lies an infuriating truth.
Max, the blind bear
In 1997, the small bear cub was a nothing but a photo prop near Peles Castle. “Cute” and docile, he grew up in front of the camera flashes, seemingly never bothered by them. Ten long years later, in 2006, Max arrived at the Sanctuary. Here, under the expert care of the specialists, he received medical care over a span of two years. The damage and trauma he suffered negatively impacted his overall health. The verdict was gruesome. Max had been blinded as a cub, irreversibly, to keep him from reacting to the crowds. Moreoever, he was defanged and declawed and the long years sitting on the cold concrete impacted his mobility. To keep him tame, his previous owners fed him tranquilizers every day.
At long last, Max was released in his own enclosure with a pool with spring-water, a den and over an acre of trees and shrubs. He used his other senses of smelling and hearing to get around the enclosure, his personal bit of heaven. This is where, in November 2018, his long-term health issues caught up with him. Sadly, Max couldn’t fight anymore…
Supporting the Sanctuary
As the fight towards animal welfare is fiercer than ever, the Sanctuary is on the front line. It is now the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world, and has been praised by the National Geographic for its ethical treatment of the animals.
Untravelled Paths has been happily supporting the Sanctuary for close to ten years, with 5% of the income from our Brown Bear Experience going towards the Sanctuary. In the past, many of our guests have adopted bears and we encourage everyone to donate.
Sadly, especially in these uncertain times when the Sanctuary is closed to visitors, they rely heavily on donations, due to receiving no Goverment funding. With the recurring costs of food and medical treatment for the bears, every little donation can help cover those. You can donate using the link and help create a better life for these brown bears
Written by Oana Moldovan, Untravelled Paths