Animals being exploited for human amusement is hardly a new phenomenon, but time has done nothing to lessen the sadness of such stories. If anything, the barbaric practice of abusing animals for the sake of entertainment or financial gain seems increasingly out of place in our otherwise progressive society. Thankfully, great strides have been made to safeguard the humane treatment of animals, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of animal advocacy groups.
Four Paws International is one such group who, with the assistance of the Albanian government, has given three bears a new lease on life. The bears’ dismal circumstances caught the attention of Four Paws after the group received reports detailing the terrible living conditions. The rescue immediately began working on a plan to liberate the captive bears.
Tomi, Pashuk, and Gjina are brown bears who, until recently, had never known anything but the cramped confines of a filthy cage. Sometimes referred to as “the saddest bears in Europe”, these beautiful animals were subjected to daily abuse in the form of malnutrition, too-small cages, and nonexistent medical care. These so-called “display” bears were not regarded as living creatures but as tourist attractions. Their diets consisted largely of bread and beer, which they were force-fed for the entertainment of visitors.
The evidence of their poor nutrition and near-starvation diets is especially clear in Gjina. At the time of her rescue, she weighed a scant 140 pounds, less than half what she should weigh. A healthy brown bear will typically weigh in at approximately 450 pounds.
Another of the rescued bears, named Tomi, was suffering from extensive injuries to his upper body and badly damaged teeth. He had previously been living in a concrete prison surrounded by toilets at a restaurant in Ulza, Albania.
Pashuk was perhaps the most egregious display of cruelty and neglect. Upon entering his cage, rescuers were horrified to discover a steel collar partially embedded in the bear’s neck.
Pashuk’s owners had put the collar and chain on when he was a cub and neglected to remove or even alter it as he grew. He was left chained in a shed, being slowly strangled by what had essentially become a steel noose.
The rescue was a multifaceted operation and freeing the bears was only the beginning. All three had to be sedated and placed on tarps before they could be removed from their cages. They were immediately given medical care before being transported to the Tirana Zoo.
The zoo served as the halfway point of their journey. Several days after their initial liberation, the bears finally arrived at the Prishtina Bear Sanctuary. They were finally home.
Having finally arrived at the sanctuary, they began exploring their new surroundings and delighting in their freedom. For the first time in their lives, they are experiencing open doors, grass, and fresh air.
Gone are the days of isolation and confinement; they will never again be forced to perform. Finally, they have proper food and space to roam. Finally, they are free.
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