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Dancing Bears Park Belitsa

Georgi Georgiev, VisitBulgaria.NET

Winnie the Pooh, Yogi Bear, Ballou, Teddy Bear and many others cartoon and fairy tales heroes were inspired by the wild bear. The unique, charming and extremely smart animal is one of the most popular and unfortunately one of the most threatened animal species in Europe. It is not enough that the habitat of the bears is getting narrowed, because of the human activity, but throughout centuries the bears in Europe were constantly tormented.

There were people who kept bears in capture, teaching them dancing and entertaining the audience around the streets. But the way, in which the bears were tamed was terrible. The cubs were trained to dance on hot metal plates. Poor animals jump around in pain, while the same music was played over and over again. Later on, when they heard the music, they started dancing immediately because of the memory of the unbearable pain, caused by the hot metal. The nose ring was another facility, which turned the bear into a slave. The spectators stared at the show with admiration when they saw how the huge animal followed its owner like a puppy. They didn’t know that each step the bear made caused incredible pain. A single snatch of the rope or the chain made the powerful animal helpless because the nose and the inferior lip are extremely sensitive. So while people were having fun the bears suffered indescribably.

The brutal custom of the dancing bears was preserved in Bulgaria until recently when the “Four Paws” foundation and the foundation of Brigitte Bardo founded the “Dancing Bears Park Belitsa”. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry gave to Beltsa Municipality 8,6 hectares to be used by “Four Paws” for its ambitious project. The park became reality in the year 2000 when the bears Mariana, Stefan and Kalinka were released from their captivity and brought in the specially protected area near Belitsa. Now there are more than 20 bears in the park. The goal of “Four Paws” foundation is to free all dancing bears in Bulgaria and to give them new live. The park offers them the opportunity to live like free bears.

“Dancing Bears Park Belitsa” is located in the Rila Mountains, 1200 meters above the sea level, about 180 kilometres south of Sofia and 11 kilometres of Belitsa. The area is covered with natural woods, glades and many water pools, and like the bear park in Arbesbach-Schonfeld, Austraia, has many lakes for bathing and caves for hibernation. This is the environment where the wild bears live.

I visited the park a month ago. The guys from the staff met me kindly and explained me the route and the sites where the bears could be seen. There is no entry tax and everyone, who wants, could make a donation in a money-box in the info centre of the park.

When I reached the first observation platform a young light brown bear met me, standing on its back feet. Another hairy cub was basking under the sun like a human being. I watched these two little ruffians for a while and went on. I entered the wood, walking along the wire net. There was a huge bear, sleeping under the shadow of the trees. Further two adult bears, one of them had very interesting oblong muzzle, poked the ground with their powerful paws, digging some roots and corms. Younger bear appeared from the bushes and made its way towards the long muzzled bear. Two animals touched their noses, sniffing each other. Obviously this was the way they say “hello”. Then something very interesting happened. Two bears started scuffling like a professional sumo fighters. In fact they were much better than humans. There were moments when their game looked very rude and ferocious and in other moments they were so sweet and nice and it was clear that they were just playing. It was a real pleasure to watch the bears’ games and I was happy that the animals revealed me this exciting part of their wild life.

After I spent several hours with the unique creatures I was convinced how smart and intelligent they are. There was something wise and steady in the look of their eyes and it seemed they were happy in their new home. Only the scars of the nose rings reminded their former life, full of pain and suffer. But now the bears are safe in the “Dancing Bears Park Belitsa” - the place, where bears will dance no more. And they are waiting for you to see them. Just don’t forget – they are animals, be quiet and don’t disturb them!

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Bansko 2 28/04/2012 15:00

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