The Deliverance of Dancing Bears


After a lifetime of brutal treatment, including walking on burning embers, Bulgaria’s last three dancing bears will get to rest their paws at a mountain sanctuary, in an apparent end to the centuries-old performance tradition in the Balkans. Activists today purchased the freedom of Mima, 8, Misho, 19, and Svetla, 17.

Bulgaria is believed to have been the last country in the Balkans where dancing bears still performed, even though the practice was outlawed in 1993, when there were 20 to 30 such bears in the country.

The three bears will join another 20 brown bears on Mount Rila at a 12-hectare sanctuary for former dancing bears about 180 kilometres south of Sofia.

“Our aim is to make their life more bearable in their remaining years,” Ioana Tomescu of the Austria-based Four Paws Foundation, which created the sanctuary, told The Associated Press.

Throughout the Balkans, families, mostly among the Roma community, have long earned a living through performing bears. But the techniques to train them led the practice to be banned, and animal rights activists have moved to find the bears new homes.

Because dancing bears are illegal, authorities could simply have taken Mima, Misho and Svetla away from their owners in the eastern village of Getsovo.

Instead, the Four Paws Foundation decided to pay for their freedom by giving their owners small grants to set up new businesses. It did not reveal how much was paid. In return, the owners signed declarations pledging never to take up the bear dancing business again.

The Deliverance of Dancing Bears,
by Elizabeth Stanley

ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Awards and 1995 Australian Picture Book of the Year winner, this thought-provoking story presents the plight of the dancing bears of Turkey and Greece. The author tells the story of a captive bear whose dreams of freedom sustain her, even while being forced to perform in a Turkish marketplace by a cruel and angry keeper. During the quiet hours when she is confined to her cage, the bear imagines a different life in which she is free to wander through mountain streams and sleep lazily with her cubs. It is a kind-hearted peasant who liberates the bear and who reminds all of those watching of an important moral lesson about dignity and life.

Stanley saw her first “dancing bear” in 1979 in Athens and decided then to write a book to challenge the assumption that men could cruelly use wild animals to make money. In 1992 she took her written text to Turkey to take photos and to make sketches for the artwork. In the same year The World Society for the Protection of Animals effected the release and the return to the wild of all chained bears in Turkey. Today there are no dancing bears in Greece or Turkey. Today, it is the last Bulgarian dancing bears who have been freed.

But a recent WSPA report has revealed that the trade in dancing bears is still alive and well in India.


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