The private ownership of bears in appalling living conditions remains a challenging enforcement and logistics issue in the Balkan states. While higher penalties for illegal bear keeping have been introduced over the past three years in Kosovo, where FOUR PAWS currently runs a bear sanctuary, a large number of bears are still suffering in neighbouring Albania.

Albania is home to almost 80 bears in captivity, now leading miserable lives. Brown bears are often captured and abused for profit and entertainment, but abusive practices are not the only problem in the region. A majority of the captive bears were illegally captured from the wild as cubs, a practice contributing to the near depletion of the already endangered wild bear population—currently estimated at an abysmal 250.  

In response to this issue, FOUR PAWS and the Albanian Government have officially agreed to work together to find a sustainable and animal-friendly solution for Albania’s brown bears.

Legal change needed as a first step

Brown bears living in the wild in Albania are already protected by law, but violations are usually either not prosecuted or nominal fines imposed. Furthermore, there is no official data available about the actual number of bears in captivity and the country does not have adequate facilities to accommodate wild animals rescued from bad keeping conditions.

Therefore, as a first step, the penal system will be tightened and a registration system for brown bears in captivity will be developed alongside new guidelines for operating bear sanctuaries. Moreover, the existing law protecting native fauna will be extended to include all forms of cruel private keeping.

First, we want to focus on ending the cruelest forms of bear keeping in Albania. There are many bears abused to attract tourists, for example in tiny cages near restaurants, on beaches or near famous sights. We want to strengthen the image of Albania as a responsible tourism destination, where cruelty towards animals has no legitimate place.

Lefter Koka, Minister of Environment of Albania

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