TIRANA, ALBANIA (AP) – Albania’s last brown bear in captivity was rescued by an international animal welfare organisation on Wednesday and will be taken to a sanctuary in Austria.
Four Paws began the journey with the 24-year-old bear, named Mark, accompanied by a large file of documents to get him across multiple national borders.
“I’m very sure if we measure his heart rate now, he will be very stressed,” Julia Bohner, the leading veterinarian, told the journalists and other curious people, warning that though Mark is used with people’s presence “this attention with cameras and people coming close, he doesn’t know it”.
Leading veterinarian Julia Bohner sedated Mark before putting him into the van that will take him to the Arbesbach sanctuary, 150 kilometres west of Vienna.
“The last bear that was kept in such a tiny cage, we will today rescue him,” said Four Paws coordinator Magdalena Scherk-Trettin.
Mark was kept in a 120-square-metre cage for 20 years at a restaurant in the capital, Tirana. There is no record of how he was originally captured.
The rescue organisation said the bear was fed inappropriate food, which had made him overweight, and his teeth were broken.
“We also see that he’s not walking properly, not behaving properly,” said Scherk-Trettin, adding, however, that they were so pleased the owners willingly gave Mark to them.
In Austria, Mark will have a 2,500-square-metre natural enclosure, with bushes, trees, the opportunity to hibernate and the appropriate food and medical care.
More than captive 30 bears kept next to restaurants and other public places in Albania have been rescued since 2015. Four Paws rescued 11 of those, while others were sent to sanctuaries or zoos in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Greece and Britain in cooperation with other organisations.
According to Albanian law, seizing wild animals and keeping them is prohibited but if a bear or big cat is born in captivity, it can be kept.
Wildlife organisations want authorities to strengthen and enforce the legislation, but also work on the growing illegal trade in wildlife.
“We are very much in favour that the Albanian authorities establish a wild animal sanctuary in the country so that… other animals in the future can stay in the country and live in much more appropriate conditions,” said Scherk-Trettin.