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Most of us, when we think about bears, we picture them free in the wild. They're somewhere in nature reserves, in the woods or mountains with no restrains. This image, as beautiful as it may be, doesn't reflect the reality for all bears. The truth is that some are very mistreated, living trapped in gruesome conditions before finally being rescued by empathic people with big hearts. A person with an exceptionally big heart is Cristina Lapis, the founder of the Libearty Bear Sanctuary. Her love for bears turned this sanctuary into the largest brown bear reserve of the world. It is located in Zărneşti, 27 km away from the Hollywood of Eastern Europe, Braşov. The reserve offers a glimpse into the lives of mistreated bears, now at peace.
The story of this wonderful sanctuary started with Maya, a captive brown bear. Maya never felt the grass under her paws or the joy of being out of her enclosure for a walk. When Cristina Lapis found her, she was malnourished with depressive tendencies. The owner of the now sanctuary tried freeing her from her keeper and spent as much time as she could with Maya, feeding her and giving her the medical care that she needed. All of her hard work came to a halt when Maya started to self-harm and eventually passed away.
People can do extraordinary things when they are grieving. After hearing about this heart-breaking story, many came together and wanted to make sure that no other bear would suffer as Maya did. Maya's death started a series of events that lead to the building of a bear sanctuary. Her dying, although unfortunate, put a flame in people's hearts and made them the saviours of 116 brown bears so far.
We can only imagine what the 116 rescued brown bears, which are living today in the sanctuary, went through before being saved. Cohabiting in the reserve, these bears had to learn to enjoy their surroundings. They learned how to climb trees, swim in ponds and how to play with each other. The integration of some bears takes a longer period of time than the others, but in the end, this sanctuary is like a bear retirement home. Here, they don't exist to entertain humans by doing tricks but live as nature intended them to.
One hundred sixty acres of forest was donated to the bears by the city of Zărneşti, making their stay here very enjoyable. The plentiful space, freedom of movement, and treats make the bears very happy. Most of these bears also have a sweet tooth, enjoying treats like bread filled with honey or various fruits.
Visitors can witness the feeding of the bears in the Libearty sanctuary in guided tours from Tuesday to Sunday. On Mondays, it is usually closed for the upkeep of the place. Visiting is only possible in the mornings. There are two guided tours per day, both in Romanian and English. The guides tell the stories of how the bears got there, what they've had to overcome, and they even take visitors to a memorial place dedicated to Maya, the bear that started everything.
Because this bear reserve isn't a zoo, there are a couple of rules established by management, which ensure that the bears aren't too interrupted from their normal routine by the visitors. Visitors are advised first to check the official website of the sanctuary, not only to see the rules but also to book the tours online. This way visitors can make sure that their spot is reserved and that an incredible experience is sure to await them.
Visitors can find that the guided tours are of various types. There is a small train that takes people through the sanctuary, this being an ideal way for small children and the elderly to experience everything there is to see. For those who wish to walk, there are public, private, and VIP tours available. The sanctuary even offers special opportunities to adopt bears for the period of a year virtually. This means that people can pay a monthly contribution that ensures the care of a bear of their choosing, and consider that bear their own. To make the experience even more authentic, the reserve gives out certificates of adoption, so that the bear can be considered a true member of the family.
Every year, the number of rescued bears increases, making the world's largest brown bear reserve a place with a story of constant growth and success. The Zărneşti brown bear reserve is among the top places to visit in Romania, the bears offering a noteworthy experience. So, take a peek into the lives of the mistreated bears and witness how the love of the Romanian people has saved and transformed them into the happy souls they are today.
Cover picture © Credit to: istock/ byrdyak
Each month. Our best stories. Zero effort.