On the 1st of December we were standing by the entrance, waiting to get in, together with the rest of the group. On the other side, in the distance, we could see two bears moving around. My camera was ready. When everyone was done buying their tickets, the barrier was liftedand we finally began walking toward the enclosures of the Libearty Bear Sanctuary.
This reservation is indeed a sanctuary for bears who have been rescued from captivity, whether this means a life of humiliation at the circus or being caged in a back yard for someone’s amusement. Most of these Carpathian brown bears have never tasted freedom. Until now, they did not know how a forest looks like or even seen another one of their kind before.
The first place we visited was the quarantine. All newcomers have to first pass through here and spend some time together under supervision, in a smaller enclosure. Surprisingly, they manage to integrate into the community. Instincts, some of which have never been used before, tell them what to do in order to handle themselves in the woods. They have plenty of vegetation to feed on, but they also receive a daily “supplement” of fruit and meat. We saw them munching on oranges, apples, pomegranates. These bears have a much healthier diet than us. Inside the enclosures they have pools where they can have a bath in and if they want some quiet time alone, there are bushes to hide in or trees to climb.
Max is an old blind bear. He was rescued from the hands of some gipsies who mutilated him and nothing could be done to save his sight. Now he sits alone in a smaller enclosure. If he is put together with the other bears, he will become aggressive. Next to him, another old bear is sitting by a pool, also enjoying an enclosure all for himself.
A road takes us up along the fences. Most of the bears were just laying around, some were yawning, some were eating, but they all seemed rather interested in our presence. They got close and watched us, probably with the same interest as us. You could tell they were used to humans.
Close to the highest point of the reservation, we entered the clinic. Here, a short movie was playing about the Libearty Sanctuary. It all started the current owner made a promise to save some bears that were being caged in order to attract customers. It wasn’t until 2005 that the constructions on the 70 hectares reservation finally started. The Libearty Sanctuary lies in central Romania, in a forest above the city of Zărnesti, about 30 km away from Brașov. It can be visited with prior phone reservation. Today, the number of bears has reached 70. And there are still many others that need to be rescued.
At the corner of one of the enclosures there was a bear who, when seeing our group, started to make pirouettes. It seems that memories from when he was caged still hunt him. Back then he had to humiliate himself for a mere piece of bread.
The bears here at Libearty Sanctuary cannot be released into the wild. This is mostly because they cannot take care of themselves after all the years in captivity, but also because they are already too familiar with humans and they would try to get close to them, especially to dumpsters.
Libearty Sanctuary truly deserves its name. It is a home for bears. For them, these enclosures represent their second chance, their salvation. Some have been born in captivity and lived so for years and years. Their life was hanging by a thread, their existence reduced to small cages, being underfed and exploited. They have been saved from the hands of people who only saw them as a means of entertainment or making money, forgetting they are wild animals with a soul that needs to be free and shouldn’t be deprived of the chance to live.