For years, bears in Romania have been trophy-hunted, forced to dance in the streets and trapped in cages outside restaurants. Kept in cruelly cramped conditions and regularly abused by their owners, these bears are now being rescued and brought to Libearty
near Brasov, Romania's largest bear sanctuary. It was founded by Cristina Lapis, who was spurred to action in 1998 after seeing three bears in a small cage outside a restaurant in central Romania where they were used to attract customers.
In 2007 Romania joined the European Union and that brought new laws including the EU Zoo Directive - which meant all zoos in Romania had to come up to a certain standard of animal management. Many zoos could not comply and the bears in these zoos faced euthanasia - but were saved by being re-homed in the bear sanctuary.
The Libearty bear sanctuary - based in oak forests above the town of Zarnesti in central Transylvania - conducts regular tours for visitors to see around 80 bears enjoying life in 70 hectares of forested sanctuary areas, where they can climb trees, swim in pools and forage naturally. The sanctuary also offers unique opportunities for more committed visitors to work with the bears. The sanctuary has also helped to create better awareness of the issues affecting bears in Romania, and enjoys a high media profile to become one of the country's primary symbols of optimism for the protection of Romania's rich natural environment.
To visit, you need to contact the Libearty office in Brasov with details of when you'd like to arrive - please give a few days notice. Contact details are on their website.
What you can do
Take a Libearty tour or make a donation at the Sanctuary website. For even closer involvement, volunteer to work with the bears
through Responsible Travel. Make your disapproval clear anywhere you see caged or performing bears. And buy the book Bear Sanctuary from the Sanctuary website.