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Activists Buy Freedom for Dancing Bears

The DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa - a Paradise for bears in Bulgaria

21 of the 25 originally registered dancing bears in Bulgaria have already been rescued and 20 have found a specially designed home - the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, founded by FOUR PAWS. Although the training of these animals to become dancing bears has been prohibited in the country since 1998, there are still five registered dancing bears in captivity, which will find their new home in the DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa in the near future. FOUR PAWS also knows about the existence of 37 additional Bears, which are currently being kept in private homes.

The background - how does a bear become a dancing bear?

Young bears are captured in the wild, separated from their mothers and taught by a trainer to become dancing bears in conditions of unimaginable cruelty. The young animals are forced onto sheets of glowing hot metal and, in order to escape the pain, the bears alternately lift up one paw and then another while a musical tune plays along. The process is repeated again and again until the animals automatically begin to raise their paws - to "dance" - in fear of the pain, even without the hot metal sheets.

But the bears begin to grow and the trainers can no longer make them obey without inflicting pain, so rings are put through their highly sensitive noses and chaps. Then chains are attached to the rings so that the trainers can control the animals, which weigh up to 350 kilograms, with only a slight tug on the chains.

For the trainers' safety, the animals' claws (through which blood flows) are trimmed several times a year, without anaesthetic - the pain is unimaginable, comparable to cutting off a human being's fingertips.

Bad food consisting mainly of white bread, sugar and schnapps along with poor shelter, are often the cause of additional, sometimes very serious, health problems for the animals.

SOFIA, Bulgaria - 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 on Friday bought 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 30-acre sanctuary for former dancing bears 110 miles 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 Press.

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