Successful end to the keeping of dancing bears in Bulgaria and Serbia
Training bears to dance has been forbidden in Bulgaria since 1998. But it was only when FOUR PAWS brought Bulgaria’s last three dancing bears to DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa in 2007 that this sorry chapter was brought to an end within the EU.
Brutal methods were used over many years to make the bears dance or drink alcohol. Training a bear to “dance” usually involves leading it as a cub onto scorching metal plates, where it will lift alternate feet to escape the pain. At the same time, a particular tune is played. This procedure is repeated again and again until the bear is conditioned – fearing the pain to come – to lift its feet automatically any time the music is played, even without the hot metal plates. To make it easier to control the bears, metal rings are inserted through the highly sensitive nose and lip or jowl. These are attached to a chain, which makes it possible for a bear handler to control a 350kg animal with only a slight tug. On top of this, to increase safety for the handler, the bears’ claws are cut several times a year, without anaesthetic. As a bear’s claws are supplied with blood, cutting them causes incredible pain, comparable to the pain a human would experience whose fingertips were cut off. The inappropriate diet – mostly consisting of white bread, sugar and hard alcohol – as well as the bad keeping conditions of the animals, all add to their suffering by also causing them health problems, which frequently lead to serious diseases.
With the successful rescue of the last Serbian dancing bears and their transfer to Belitsa in 2009, FOUR PAWS made the first steps towards terminating the keeping of dancing bears also outside the EU.
DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa
DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, located in the Rila Mountains, 170km south-east of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, was opened in 2000 and extended in 2004. FOUR PAWS has already rescued 28 former dancing bears and provided a new species-appropriate home for them here. Currently, 26 bears (21 dancing bears, 4 bears from zoos, and 1 from private keeping) live in an area of around 12 hectares. The park’s information centre has an observation platform with a view of the entire area, and a medical treatment room for the bears. The fact that so many of the former dancing bears in Belitsa now hibernate is a sign that the animals are much happier now, and that the living conditions match their natural requirements. Moreover, about half of the bears dig their own dens.