Brown bears are found only in the forests of central and northern Pindos and the Rhodope massif in the north of Greece. There are an estimated 150 bears, one of the largest populations in southern Europe. Principle threats to brown bears are human-caused mortality and fragmentation, loss and degradation of their habitat. We support the Arcturos Environmental Centre and Bear Sanctuary in their work to care for rescued orphan brown bear cubs and bears saved from the dancing bear trade, public awareness campaigns, habitat conservation and the reduction of human wildlife conflict. We raise funds for this support through our brown bear adoption and appeals to our supporters.
Arcturos actively works for the conservation of the brown bear and its habitat in Greece and the Balkans. They were implemental in ending the dancing bear trade in Greece and continue to work towards the end of illegal captivity in the wider regions of the Balkans. At the sanctuary in northern Greece, there are ten bears who were either former dancing bears, captive bears from zoos or orphaned cubs. Rescued bears remain at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives, provided that their circumstances exclude any possibility of rehabilitation and reintroduction to their natural environment.
The dancing bear trade, once seen as a tradition in Greece, is a principle cause of the decrease in population sizes. Every dancing bear captured often meant the loss of two bears, since to capture the cub the mother must be killed.
Cubs were taken from their mothers when they just a few months old. In order to ‘train’ them, their noses or lips are pierced with chains and rings so that painful punishment can be easily dealt out to obtain obedience. To make the bears less harmful to their owners, their teeth are often smashed, which can lead to painful infections, causing the death. The training consists of making the bears stand on hot metal plates to force them to ‘dance’ to the sound of a tambourine. Over time, the animals learn to associate the noise with the movement perceived as ‘dancing’, standing on their hind legs and shuffling their feet. This behaviour is initially performed in order to avoid the pain caused by the scorching hot metal but later becomes a conditioned response. The bears can show repetitive stereotyped behaviours due to their maltreatment – a common sign of poor welfare which can persist for the rest of their life.
You can view a video of Ben, our adopted bear on our YouTube channel.
The bear sanctuary not only provides near-natural living conditions for rescued bears but also helps to educate thousands of visitors each year about the development of the species, the geographic distribution of their population, biology and ecology of brown bears and the threats they face in the wild. Arcturos provides sheepdogs to shepherds to help them protect their flocks from bear attacks and informs farmers on bear deterrence to protect crops, thereby avoiding the unnecessary killing of wild bears. They also provide advice on building roads to avoid disruption to habitats and reduce deaths caused by cars. Proposals have been presented to the Greek government to prevent bears searching for food in villages through the planting of fruit trees in forests and banning hunting in specific areas.
To gauge the effectiveness of these methods of conservation, Arcturos have commenced a programme of collecting hair samples from traps placed on wooden poles where bears have a habit of scratching. These samples provide data on population numbers and movements. It is hoped that with this holistic approach, conflict with humans, habitat loss and lack of support from the public and the state will reduce, helping to preserve this species in Greece for many more years.