Cover photo credits © Iv2187/ Wikipedia
Cover photo credits © Iv2187/ Wikipedia
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Dancing bears in Belitsa Park, Bulgaria

2 minutes to read

Whenever one shows interest in someone else's situation, in which in fact he shouldn't, it is common that the expression "mind your own business" might be heard. The way this is said in the Balkans is literally translated into "What are you staring at?! Is it a dancing bear?". The origin of this phrase is closely connected to the story that follows, the story of The Dancing Bear Park Belitsa, so keep reading!

Photo Credits © Klearchos Kapoutsis / Flickr
Photo Credits © Klearchos Kapoutsis / Flickr

Since the early 90s, there was a trend of using the bears as small scale "walking circus", around the Balkans. A musician would play music- violin or accordion, and the bear would “dance”. This show would gather a lot of people, and many of them would pay money to see this phenomenon- a "talented dancing bear". Of course, there is an ugly truth behind this performance. The way the bears were trained to dance to the melodies played, was nothing but cruel torture. Touching them with hot irons, poking with needles, hitting, even giving them alcohol, was part of their "training" process. Luckily, this way of treating the bears got declared "illegal" in 1998. Since 2000, an organization named "Four paws" started resolving this issue, related to the abused bears in the Balkans.

Photo Credits © Иван/ Wikimedia
Photo Credits © Иван/ Wikimedia

"Four paws" chose to settle the rescued bears in a park-forest near Belitsa. Belitsa is a small town in south-western Bulgaria, located in the Belitsa Municipality of the province of Blagoevgrad. It is 170 km south of the capital Sofia. You can visit the park, which is important to keep in mind that it is not a zoo. It’s a sanctuary and resting home for the ex-dancing bears. The park is set over 120,000 square meters of forest in the Rila Mountains, at a height of 1345 meters. There is an information and medical center on the premises. The area is secured with a fence and specifically, the one circled with a 3 km long fence, is the bear's natural environment. The feeding is set to mimic a natural habitat too, thus the staff is hiding the food around on the site for the bears to train their natural instincts. All of the bears have names, so when you visit this park you will meet Monti, Violeta, Gabriela, and 20 more wonderful brown bears.

In the past, they were usually kept chained 24 hours a day in small spaces, fed with sugar and alcohol to improve their "performance". They were physically harmed in extreme ways, so this place is considered as a bear paradise. Many of the bears have sight damage due to the sugar intake, and all of them were held awake during the winters, so they forgot how to hibernate. Fortunately, the bears now are capable of following their biological clock and slowly are returning to their peaceful winter dreaming.


The author

Zlata Golaboska

Zlata Golaboska

I am Zlata and I am an architect living in the Balkans. I am passionate about cities, how people influence architecture and vice versa, and how places change our lives.

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