Bear Sanctuary close to Bankso ski resort
Belitsa Bear Sanctuary is the largest bear conservation area of its kind in Europe, located in Belitsa on the Rila mountain range just a short trip away from the Bankso ski resort.
The sanctuary stretches across 120 000 square metres of wild, mountainous terrain, reserved for twenty seven rescued bears.
All but one of these bears were ‘dancing bears’ until they found sanctuary. The notion of a dancing bear may sound amusing but the reality is not – ‘trainers’ need a vast arsenal of cruel tricks to force such a powerful animal to stumble through sedate performances.
Dancing bears are taught to dance by being made to stand on burning metal plates which condition them to constantly shift their weight from leg to leg through fear of pain. Then, they are led through the streets by metal chains through their noses, which weigh at least 350kg.
Along with an incredibly unsuitable diet of bread, sugar and alcohol, these chains destroy the bear’s teeth. The Belitsa Bear Sanctuary provides a dentist for the rescued bears, currently the ironically named Dr. Loose, who restores the bear’s teeth and relieves their pain.
Although the use of dancing bears is illegal in Bulgaria, the practice continues. Belitsa Bear Sanctuary is committed to stopping the practice for good and rescuing each dancing bear.
Natasha Bamford at Bamro Ltd recounts her personal experiences of the sanctuary below:
"A visit to the bear sanctuary in Belitsa is a humbling experience. I have visited on several occasions and its unlike any zoo or park or visitor centre I have ever experienced. It is truly a sanctuary.
Set on a hillside enclosed with fences, this deciduous woodland is quiet, set away from people and homes and it bares all of the elements of their natural habitat. The rehabilitation is so good that several of the bears have re-gained their natural instincts to hibernate, digging their winter burrows and returning to their solitary lives dependant on humans only for food.
Throughout the bear sanctuary there are paths leading through the forest with tall fences either side enabling visitors to see the bears in their new habitat, safely. On the times I have visited we have been walked around by the specialists brought in to work with the bears. With a private commentary on the background of each bear, the treatments they are offered and a little more information about how these bears were treated, it has been an interesting visit on every occasion. But there is a sad side too. For every bear they have made a difference to, there is another whose psychological behaviour is beyond repair. At the sanctuary you will see both sides, good and bad.
It is free to visit and there are BBQ spots on the mountain which are also free to use. Voluntary contributions can be made via a donation box as you leave."
Looking for a chalet in Bankso? Why not stay at PIRIN CHALET?