Last Saturday, I went to the Dancing Bears Park located in the mountain, 10km away from the village of Belitsa in southwestern Bulgaria and 170 km from Sofia. It was actually the second time I was going there because I already went once, two years ago, when I arrived in Bulgaria. But, unlike the first time, I was positively surprised to see that the road to access the park from Belitsa has been recently renovated so it will take you only about 10 minutes to get to the park once you reach Belitsa instead of the 50 minutes we spent the first time.
The Dancing Bears Park (« парк за танцуващи мечки » in Bulgarian), was co-founded in 2000 by two organizations, the Austrian one, Vier Pfoten (Four Paws), and the French one, Brigitte Bardot Foundation.
In 1992, the Bulgarian parliament decided to forbide the old practice of dancing bears which started in the Middle Age in the Balkans in order to entertain people in villages. But, the law had not been really respected until 2002. It’s only after many actions from Brigitte Bardot and the Vier Pfoten foundation that the authorities decided to apply the law and oblige bears owners to stop their practices. At that time, most of the dancing bears owners came to the park to « give » back their bear and received financial compensation in order to allow them to start a new living activity.
This tradition of dancing bear was one of the most crual because obviously, a bear is a wilde animal and in order to tame him, the « training » starts when he’s still a cub. The practice consists of placing the cub onto sheets of hot metal in order to force the animal to lift alternately one paw and then another to avoid the pain. During that time, the owner is playing music so it looks like the bear is dancing but later on, it also sends a psychological signal to the bear. When the adult bear hears the music, he stands and starts dancing because in his mind, the sound of the music recalls him his childhood on hot metal sheets. But, because cruelty can be endless, the owner also places a ring on the highly sensitive nose of the bear in order to control him easily with a chain. The owner also teared the teeth and nails off in order to avoid being injured if the bear decided to rebel. Of course, all of this is done without anesthesia in order to show the bear who is in control. The bears were also beaten several times per day to break them psychologically.
So far, there are currently 26 bears living in the Dancing Bears Park, the youngest being 7 and the oldest, 35.
They are living in an area of about 12 ha separated in several sectors in order to make the cohabitation easier. The first time I went at Dancing Bears Park, I have been able to visit the all park but this time, part of the park was not accessible. We were told that the bears living in the closed part need more tranquility. The purpose is to help them recover with their wilde state that they should have never left.
So, the personnel of the park is taking great care of them and follow specific procedures to free the bears from their captivity mindset. For example, the food (mainly composed of apples and pine cones) is hidden in order to force the bears to search for it. As well, during their « working live », the bears never hibernated like they should have done if they would have stayed in the nature. So, some of them have troubles to recover with their natural instinct.
As a result, the shelters where the bears sleep during the winter are either natural or artificial. It depends on the bears as some of them don’t know how to build them themselves or just cannot do it themselves because of physcial conditions due to their previous captivity life.
It was such a pleasure to see these bears recovering step by step with their natural instinct and at the same time it is so sad to imagine the life they had previously. Some of them really seem to have suffered a lot, phsycially and psychologically.
My short video taken in 2014 about this bear who lives on the park to show you how he behaves now, he keeps going back and forth all day.
Without the inititative of the two foundations and the help of the local authorities, what would these bears have become ? Fortunately, there are people on this planet who cares enough about the animals to do whatever it takes to make their life a bit better. These bears can now retire quietly in Belitsa thanks to Four Paws and Brigitte Bardot !
Sometimes, food is hidden on the wheel which obliges the bear to make it roll with his paw. The purpose is to dynamize his mind. Definitely a park to visit mainly for the bears, and also in the same time for the beauty of nature where it takes place.
More informations :
The Dancing Bears Park can be visited from April to November and it’s better to check here for the working time / Prices (2016) : 6 lv per person – 3 lv for children / Guided tour starts every 30 minutes / Good shoes because steeps slopes. According to the period of the visit, take a sweatshirt because it’s in the forest.
Where take a lunch : There is a great restaurant on the road just before to arrive to the park. There will be soon an article about it because it deserves to be known.