BOOKS: Bear Sanctuary by Victor Watkins
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2012:
Bear Sanctuary by Victor Watkins
Bear Sanctuary Publications (P.O. Box 690, Redhill, Surrey, RH19DG, U.K.), 2011. 126 pages, paperback. $4.99/Kindle, <http://bearsanctuary.com>.
Captive bears endured wretched lives in Romania for centuries. Bear-baiting was commonly practiced from Roman times, or earlier, until well into the 20th century. Gypsy “dancing bear” acts reputedly continued into the 21st century.
Under Communist rule, most Romanian cities established small zoos as a form of cheap mass entertainment, with bears as their focal attraction, and made some pretense to educating Romanians about their native wildlife, but the zoos’ design was typically obsolescent, the zoos were poorly managed at best, and many financially failed after the fall of Communist rule in 1990. Others survived in part by selling animals, including bears, to entrepreneurs who exhibited them to promote restaurants, gas stations, and even radio and TV programs.
Whether still in substandard zoos or elsewhere, Romanian captive bears suffered through frigid winters and hot, humid summers on diets typically consisting of food scraps, in cages offering little space for exercise, let along opportunity to practice normal bear behavior.
Christina and Roger Lapis, also active in dog rescue, became involved on behalf of Romanian captive bears in 1998. After years of pushing an often intransigent government and an indifferent public, they at last opened a 160-acre bear sanctuary near Brasov in the Carpathian Mountains in 2005.
Cristi and Lydia arrived first. Cristi had lived in a rusty cage behind a restaurant. She slept on the cold concrete floor. The restauranteur acquired Lydia later. Christina Lapis heard while the bear sanctuary was still under construction that the restaurant was being torn down and that the bears would be killed.
Cristi and Lydia were housed on site while the work went on around them. The first enclosure was finished in 2006.
More rescued bears came to spend their remaining years in luxury, enjoying access to fresh air and room to roam with grass under their feet. Lakes allow the bears to swim and bathe. The bears can also climb trees. No longer do misguided youths taunt them. Never again will these bears be chained and made to “dance” for tourists. The sanctuary offers tours and educates people about bears. Bears who can be rehabilitated are returned to the wild.
Bear Sanctuary ends with a chapter about other bear sanctuaries and how bears are mistreated around the world.
The outstanding color photos in Bear Sanctuary are sometimes hard to look at.
–Debra J. White