Katherine Lethbridge review 2 Sep 2014
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
Being able to explore Brasov and other Romanian towns/cities was the best part of the trip, the culture and landscape is completely different from where I am from so it is amazing to experience this great country. Being able to see the bears was great, as I had never seen real bears before and it was great to see their behaviour.
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Be prepared to sit in a dark and unhygienic room, preparing the food for the
bears. I was prepared to do food prep (I have done volunteering before, so I
was ready for hard, messy work) but the conditions were unacceptable,
especially as this was the only job I did whilst I was there. The food has most
likely been expired for about a week, so it is unpleasant to handle, smell and
see. The food given to the bears is mainly food that is not natural to bears
(mainly dairy products), there were multiple times where there were cakes and
fast food to "prepare" for the bears, which is unethical and would make the
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
I do not feel I benefited the sanctuary due to the food I had to prepare, however
the money I gave obviously helped and I honestly felt that volunteers were not
needed and this work should be given to local Romanians that need an income.
Staying in Brasov meant that I supported local shops and restaurants in the town
and visiting other towns/cities helped support tourism.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Being able to explore Romanian was a great experience, I will definitely go
back to see the rest of the country, the sanctuary would have been better if I
just visited as a guest, not volunteer and I would recommend anyone to donate
to support the bears and to visit the sanctuary. However the work was not
honestly advertised, we were not even allowed to feed the bears or asked to go
along to watch, being able to throw food to the bears was a main selling point
for me and I could not do that.
Read the operator's response here:
Thank you for your comments, Katherine, and for submitting your review on Responsible Travel. We are pleased to hear that overall you loved your stay in Romania, however we were saddened and a little surprised to hear that you found this project disappointing. As you know, our representative in Brasov worked hard to address your concerns whilst you were in Romania. Your review contains some new concerns and although we are sorry not to have had the chance to address them whilst you were in Romania, I am glad to have this chance to respond publicly and to reassure potential volunteers of the value of this long running project.
When the bear sanctuary was created in 2006, volunteers were immediately needed to help with the day to day running of the sanctuary. Animal welfare is sadly not as well funded in Romania as it might be in the UK, and as such funds are extremely limited and not sufficient to employ locals to do the work carried out by our volunteers. Funding for the sanctuary comes from donations and visitors alone. The development of the sanctuary depends on volunteers for the food prep, the maintenance and the tours so that the full time members of staff can do the longer term work that requires their expertise. They are currently building a new enclosure for a mother and her baby because the baby will be killed if released into the enclosure with the other bears. Without the volunteers, the newest enclosure could not have been completed in 2012. The volunteers help to keep the sanctuary running- and without them, many more bears would still be living in captivity in circuses or chained up outside Romanian tourist attractions.
The food programme at the bear sanctuary is one of the most enlightened animal welfare ventures that we are involved with. We do not share the view that this is unethical and makes the bears ill. Supermarkets donate food which has passed its expiry date to be given to the bears. This needs to have its packaging removed so that the bears are not harmed. This venture is forward thinking, as this cannot even happen in the UK due to wastage rules in supermarket chains. This saves a lot of money- feeding over 80 bears every day (eating 10kg a day) is not an easy or cheap task. The feeding programme has been designed by experts from World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA World Society for the Protection of Animals) alongside the sanctuary management and a team of vets who specialise in animals such as bears. As such, this has been designed so that the bears’ welfare is at the heart of this food programme.
Much of the food that the bears eat needs to be kept cool- this includes meat and dairy products. As you were in Romania during the height of summer, where temperatures were in excess of 30 degrees, to prepare such food outside would have provided a significant risk to the bears. We were surprised to learn that you were sitting inside to do the preparation of fruit, vegetables and bread – this is not requirement of the sanctuary who would have been happy for you to be outside. The is a real highlight for all of our volunteers (including myself) who have done this programme sitting outside next to the bears watching them enjoy their freedom whilst preparing food for them. I will ensure that in our briefing material we do encourage volunteers to sit outside to do food prep when it is appropriate.
Food preparation is a key part of being a volunteer but I am pleased that that, like all our volunteers, you also participated in:
• A sanctuary tour
• Grooming the dogs of the sanctuary
• Conservation work at the sanctuary
• Working at the dog shelter helping with the 600 dogs that have been rescued here (optional)
• Simply enjoying being with the bears- the sanctuary knows and understands that our volunteers are spending time and money to come and help them with their work- as thanks for that, they want our volunteers to simply enjoy their environment and watch the bears. The sanctuary is huge- it takes about 2 hours to walk around. Volunteers do their work in in the morning, taking a few hours to appreciate the bears and where they are, and then carry on again in the afternoon. You requested an early morning visit for the bears' feeding time and we were very happy to organise this for you.
We do feel that all aspects of work at the sanctuary are detailed clearly and accurately on our website and in the informal telephone interview carried out by a former sanctuary volunteer. However we will take extra care to ensure that all future volunteers understand why the work of volunteers is vital to the sanctuary and why, sadly, funds are not available to employ locals to do this work. We are sorry to have received our first negative review but are grateful for the chance to address the issues raised and to promise to ensure that all future volunteers have as rewarding a time here as all of our volunteers in the past 7 years have done.