After a feature in the UK's Daily Mail drew attention to the abuse suffered by captive bears in Albania, international outcry sparked the creation of new laws to protect the species and the construction of a new animal sanctuary in the Dajt mountains, near Tirana.
The news story featured Tomi, a brown bear who spent two years in a cage with the purpose of drawing customers to a restaurant, but Tomi's plight is not uncommon. Bears are often used to draw crowds, customers and profit in Albania.
Video of another bear named Jeta recently surfaced, showing her being dragged around the city by a ring through her nose. Why? So her owner could charge tourists for selfies with her.
It's important to note that Albania spent forty years closed off from the rest of the world under the rule of Enver Hoxha, whose leadership began in 1944 and only recently ended in 1985. During this time human rights were suspended, leaving little concern for the welfare of the nation's animals.
Now there are at least 80 bears living in captivity across the country and a mere 250 left to roam the wild while the species remains endangered, a direct result of a complete absence of hunting laws, allowing anyone to shoot any animal any where, even inside national parks.
New laws include a 2008 legislation that forbade captivity and cruelty against animals and birds, and another bill that, after being approved in January 2014, suspended any and all hunting for two years.
Though these laws have been put in place, they're seldom enforced or result in a nominal fine.
The good news is that the Albanian government has embraced our, historically speaking, newly acquired world view against animal suffering in captivity.
"Up to now, we have sent four bears to specialized centres - three to Greece in January 2016, and one to Germany in May 2016. In April this year minister Lefter Koka signed an agreement in Pristina to send five bears to the Bear Sanctuary in Prishtina, which is a centre of the 'Four Paws' foundation. They are going to be moved there within October, but all this process take a lot of time and support, while sending them abroad is expensive," said Ana Kekezi, from the Ministry of Environment.
While Albania has been working to relocate abused bears to sanctuaries around the globe, the costs involved prompted them to partner with the Four Paws foundation in building a shelter of their own.
"The project for this centre has finished on paper and now we are in the fundraising phase in order to start the building within 2017. This centre would resolve the issue and create the proper conditions to stop cruelty against these animals," Kekezi said.
I'm happy to report that both Tomi and Jeta have been liberated from their cages and will be living the rest of their lives as nature intended: free of human exploitation.
If you'd like to help, donations are being accepted by Four Paws to rescue and relocate bears across Albania until the sanctuary is operational.Source: Onegreenplanet | Balkaninsight | Four-paws | Dailymail