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Successful FOUR PAWS campaign to rescue Europe’s saddest bears


Environment Ministry confiscates 16 illegally held Albanian bears in 2016


In August 2016, international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS launched a campaign against the cruel and illegal keeping of bears in captivity in Albania. Now, at the end of the year, the campaign is already showing a positive balance, with the Albanian Environment Ministry having confiscated a total of 16 bears in distress. Following these confiscations, FOUR PAWS has been able to relieve six of the bears from their appalling keeping conditions and bring them to safety. The other ten bears have been given species-appropriate homes in Germany, Greece and Italy.

Albanian Environment Ministry steps in to protect bears

“The large number of bears rescued this year shows that the Albanian Environment Ministry is now actively protecting Albania’s bears”, says Thomas Pietsch, wild animal expert at FOUR PAWS. “We are confident that this positive development will continue in 2017, that the Environment Ministry will push on with the necessary changes to the law, and that it will begin constructing Albania’s bear sanctuary as already announced. Only then can the chapter on Europe’s saddest bears finally be closed.” Although this year’s rescues have significantly reduced the number of bears suffering in Albania, an estimated 40 are still vegetating in cramped, damp, squalid cages.

Individual bears’ stories spread the sorry message around the world

Although Albanian law and international accords protect brown bears in the wild, the illegal trade in and keeping of bears in dreadful conditions continues in Albania. For several months early in the year, FOUR PAWS carried out research, and recorded and published several cases of bears being kept in cruel conditions. The sad stories of individual bears such as beer bear Tomi, selfie bear Jeta and chain bear Pashuk were publicised in the media and on social media channels around the world, bringing the bears to prominence and touching millions of people. To date over a quarter of a million have signed FOUR PAWS’ online petition (, which aims to encourage Albanian Environment Minister Lefter Koka to enact a blanket ban on the cruel practice of keeping bears in captivity.

The bears rescued by FOUR PAWS are doing well

Beer bears Tomi and Gjina, and chain bear Pashuk – which FOUR PAWS transferred to the BEAR SANCTUARY they run near Prishtina in Kosovo ( at the end of September – are coming along very nicely in their familiarisation enclosures, and enjoying their new-found freedom. They have all gained a good deal of weight, they have grown a beautiful, thick coat of fur, and their physical wounds have healed. Selfie bear Jeta and amusement bear Luna – freed from their misery and temporarily transferred to Tirana Zoo by FOUR PAWS in cooperation with the Albanian Environment Ministry in November – will also soon be able to move into their permanent home in BEAR SANCTUARY Prishtina. In spring 2017, as soon as all preparations are completed, FOUR PAWS will transfer the two females to the facility.

Bear Tomi

Bear Gjina
© Solange Santarelli

Bear Pashuk

Last week an international FOUR PAWS team, together with Albania’s veterinary inspectorate, transferred another bear – an around 18-month-old male named Riku – from the Skrapar region to Tirana Zoo. Riku had been kept as a pet by his previous owner, and now FOUR PAWS is looking for a pleasant and appropriate place for him to live permanently.

Bear Riku


FOUR PAWS will remain active in Albania in the coming year. Thomas Pietsch says, “We’ll be supporting the Albanian Environment Ministry in its construction of the state-run bear sanctuary in Mount Dajtit National Park, which has already been announced. We’ll also be encouraging it to better enforce existing bear-protection laws, and significantly raise the fines applied to violations.”