Over the last few days, heavy crates have been rumbling into a wildlife sanctuary near Pristina, Kosovo.
And when those crates opened, a couple of bears who had been prisoners have a new green grassy beginning!
For Tomi and Gjina, who were once among “the saddest bears in Europe,” every moment is nothing short of an epiphany. Like Tomi’s first experience with a pool of water.
And Gjina’s is cautious for first tentative steps into the great wide open.
There’s a third fresh arrival at the Prishtina Bear Sanctuary named Pashuk. But the bear has yet to leave his new kennel. His door, however, will always be open and it’s only a matter of time before he joins his new friends. You can’t blame any of them for taking things slowly. Their entire lives were spent in cages, as dubious tourist attractions in Albania. Over the last month or so, Four Paws, with help from the Albanian government, has freed them from a life in chains a life whose sole purpose was to entertain passersby with sad spectacle.
“Our whole team is overjoyed with the rescue of Tomi, Pashuk and Gijna, knowing they will be given the highest standard of care for the rest of their lives,” Claire LaFrance, communications director at Four Paws, told The Dodo. “They will never perform again, nor be forced to eat or drink inappropriate things, but most importantly, they are free from the confines and isolation of inadequate captivity.”
Albania is still home to around 50 bears, often living on a diet of beer and bread, never knowing life beyond a heavy chain. “We hope that, for all of Albania’s ‘saddest bears’ languishing in small cages, we are able to give them this very same, very happy ending,” LaFrance said.
For now, Tomi, Gijna and Pashuk are the beginning of the first freed Albanian bears, soaking up 40 sprawling acres along with bears rescued from similar straits across the region. Although their future is bright now, their history of abuse has taken a toll. Gijna, only weighs just 140 pounds of the 450 pounds that a healthy bear should tip the scales at, according to Four Paws.
No longer in a cell that measured just 13 by 6.5 feet. at the sanctuary, she has all the room in the world to grow,
Tomis former home was a concrete cell, flanked by toilets at the side of a restaurant, suffers from badly damaged teeth and injuries to his upper body.
Then there’s the reclusive Pashuk, who was found nearly strangled by the steel collar that she had been growing into since she was a cub.
“I saw many suffering bears, but I have never seen anything like this,” Carsten Hertwig, a bear expert at Four Paws, noted earlier this month. “The chain was grown in so deeply that the skin had already grown over it. His owners had put Pashuk on the chain when he was still small, locked him in the shed and never removed the chain ever since.”
But when Pashuk walks he no longer drags the heaving chains he knew all to well. And for the first time in his life, he will be among friends. “From now on, they’ll be given the care they need in an appropriate environment, and will want for nothing,” Thomas Pietsch, a wild animal expert at Four Paws, said in a press release sent to The Dodo.
While these bears found their way to a happy ending, there are many more remain scattered throughout Albania, suffering in silence and need a chance. They need to be here. You can join this fight by signing this petition. You can also support Four Paws by making a donation here.
Watch a video of Tomi’s rescue and arrival at the bear sanctuary below:
Click and share with your loved ones and fellow animal lovers!