From Captivity to Comfort: Romania’s Sanctuary Giving Brown Bears a Second Chance
Many bears at Libearty Sanctuary live together in safe, comfortable enclosures while a few bears do better living more independently. | Photo: Miriam Jøms

From Captivity to Comfort: Romania’s Sanctuary Giving Brown Bears a Second Chance

Romania has 60 percent of Europe’s brown bears, but these giant creatures have often been kept in captivity for entertainment. In partnership with World Animal Protection, the Libearty Sanctuary in Zărnești is now a safe home for many of them. Following her passion for animal rights, Miriam Jøms set out to see the sanctuary for herself.

Reaching our destination in Zărnești, Romania, the security guards’ “teddy bear” dog greeted us, clearly pregnant with tail wagging. The guards pointed us down a small secured path to an office. Inside, we were treated to a movie screening, which explained the country’s history of brown bears and our reason behind our visit to this site, the Libearty Sanctuary.

According to my guidebook, Romania currently has approximately 60 percent of Europe’s brown bears. It’s said that an earlier dictator prohibited the hunting of all bears, not to protect the bears but to ensure he had unlimited access to all bears for his own hunting pleasure.

Unfortunately, it is a tradition across parts of the world, especially in Turkey and Greece, but also in India, Bangladesh, and Romania, to keep bears in captivity, largely for entertainment purposes. 

World Animal Protection has been working on the issue of bears in captivity since 1992. It started this local initiative with Romanian Christina Lapis, who already managed a shelter for street dogs in Romania through the organisation Asociatia Milioane de Prieteni (Millions of Friends). This initiative revealed the serious abuse inflicted upon bears held in captivity in Romania. Some of the bears were used as a source of income when tourists paid to take photos of them. Others were used as a way to get people to stop at petroleum stations and restaurants. Still others were kept in zoos. Every bear had a story.

After many years of hard work, in 2005, a donation-based, 70-hectare forest from the local authorities opened. Cristi, Lydia, and Odi, Libearty’s first three bears, moved in.

A young, relaxed guide invited us to step into the sanctuary. Just outside the office was the first big enclosure for some of the sanctuary’s bears. Each bear had their own nameplate made out of timber with their date of arrival at Libearty.

Suddenly, I was standing one metre from a large, imposing bear, who hardly acknowledged me. I watched in fascination as it lumbered around, free from chains.

Most of Libearty’s bears live in a group with other bears, known as a sleuth. The large enclosures have space for them to easily move around and some even have pools.

However, some bears at Libearty have been more comfortable living in small sleuths, or even alone. One of these bears is Max, who arrived in 2008 and immediately made a strong impression on me.

As we approached his enclosure, Max just sat still. For the first 10 years of his life, Max was chained outside a restaurant near Peleș Castle, one of Romania’s most popular tourist attractions. If tourists wanted photos of Max, they paid his owner. Our guide explained the bear had probably been blinded by needles so that he didn’t react aggressively when these paying customers approached him. When he arrived at Libearty, Max struggled to walk because he hadn’t been able to freely move for so long.

As our guide shared the bear’s story, we watched Max in this safe environment. He ambled a bit further away from us, picked up a big piece of watermelon, then sat back down again. He took a bite, gently eating his snack.

I might be inexperienced with bears, but it seemed his life had definitely taken a turn for the better.

Miriam Jøms

Traveller

Miriam is an entrepreneur who believes that ethical values are best shared through personal meetings and good experiences. Her passion for animal rights made her create and start, together with her partner, Norway’s first vegan beach café, Palma. She developed a love for travelling as a Peace Corps participant in India, student in South Africa, and travel guide for Ethical Travel Portal in Ukraine, Romania, and Oslo. Meeting people from other cultures and experiencing new perspectives of life have strengthened her joy for documentary photography and writing. Miriam currently lives and works in Sarpsborg, Norway.

Traveller: Miriam Jøms
13 October 2022
Category:
Travellers' Tales - Nature

Let Resonate Transport You!

Travel the world with the Resonate newsletter.

Highlights include:

  • Interesting stories from people in all corners of the globe
  • Vibrant photos sure to spark wanderlust
  • Ideas on where to go now — and how to do it responsibly
Knitting Japan Together on the Shinkansen

Japan’s bullet train is more than a quick way to zip around the country.

Photo Essay: An Invitation to a Tocho Toy Party in the Kyrgyz Highlands

A child’s first steps call for a celebration in Kyrgyzstan.

Stories from Romania

Meet Florica Arion, the last woman still weaving with cattail from a Romanian village with tradition

Luncavița, Romania, was once known for its artisans, but today a single woman works to keep a cattail weaving tradition alive.

Wild Strawberry Preserves, Sleigh Rides, and “Mariana” Squirrels in Vatra Dornei, Romania

Vatra Dornei is a Romanian town surrounded by nature and filled with traditions.

Art Nouveau Architecture, Thermal Baths, and FestiFall Fun in Oradea, Romania

Oradea’s main tourist attractions are in the city centre, but there’s much to explore at this crossroads of culture and religion.

Let Resonate Transport You!

Travel the world with the Resonate newsletter.

Highlights include:

  • Interesting stories from people in all corners of the globe
  • Vibrant photos sure to spark wanderlust
  • Ideas on where to go now — and how to do it responsibly