For more than 10 years now, an Orphan Bear Rehabilitation Center has been operational in the Hasmas Mountains, in Harghita County. At the center, orphan bears found by people in the Carpathians’ forests are monitored to be reintegrated into the wilderness
Although the bear is protected at national and European level, poaching and too many people wondering through the woods have increased the number of orphan bears. Especially in the hibernation periods, female bears are scared by people who come too close to their dens and run, leaving their cubs alone. Also, the high value of bear trophies, which cost between 4,000 and 15,000 Euro, puts bears in danger. Sometimes, female bears are shot, and their cubs, too young to face life in the wilderness, are exposed to lots of dangers.
Leo Bereczky is the one who set up the centre, out of passion for Romania’s most emblematic species: “The idea came to me out of necessity, as in Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains in particular, many bear cubs are left orphans because people have invaded their habitats and are no longer interacting with nature properly. It was a happy encounter between the ‘Vier Pfoten’ Foundation, which funded the project, and our wish to do something for these bear cubs. Now we have 10 cubs at the centre and we are proud that, until now, we have managed to rehabilitate and reintegrate into nature more than 100 cubs. The cubs get to our centre following requests by the authorities responsible for the management of this species and sometimes we are notified by the police. So, if somebody finds a bear cub, they inform the local authorities, and we are asked by the authorities to go and pick it up.”
The bear cub orphanage is situated in an isolated mountain area, stretching across 20 hectares. The principle on the basis of which it operates is as little interaction with humans as possible, for the animals to be able to perfectly reintegrate into nature.
Leo Bereczky: “Rehabilitation means replicating as much as possible the conditions in real nature. The cubs are kept in special enclosures where the environment is completely natural, and where they can develop their natural instincts. It’s good to know that a cub is born with all the natural instincts needed for its survival, that is the instinct to escape, find refuge in a tree in case of danger or find food. So the cub is born with all these instincts and it does not learn the things I just mentioned from the mother. This makes possible its rehabilitation, the manner of raising it so that it can still be a genuinely wild animal. We are trying to take care of the cubs in these reserves that can be extended, if needed, depending on their needs. At this time of the year, additional food is placed in the reserve for the cubs, but in a manner that makes it impossible for them to associate the source of food with the presence of people. That means they find the food that we provide just as they would find it in nature, which allows them to develop as normal bears. It’s just their mum that’s missing, but we try to make up for it. After about one year and a half, one of the reserve’s gates is left open and the little bears are allowed to explore the centre’s surroundings. They tend to explore more as the amount of additional food in the reserve is smaller. So we push them into exploring as much as possible, until they become free bears able to live in the wild all by themselves. “
There is a big number of orphan cubs in the Carpathian region every year. Unfortunately, the Harghita Centre for Bear Cubs Rehabilitation risks being closed down, as there are no more funds to support it. Under these circumstances, the bear cubs’ future is uncertain. World Wildlife Fund Romania in running a fund raising campaign, between September 7th and October 15th. The cost of food for one cub stands at 4 thousand dollars per year. This may seem a big amount, but anyone can help save a cub by offering 5 dollars a month, that will cover its food for one day, by making a donation on wwf.ro/orfelinat. Besides food and protection, the shelter is a safe environment where veterinarian care is also provided. Moreover, the collected money will allow Leo Bereczky to develop the centre so that as many cubs as possible be rescued and then reintegrated into the wild.
Leo Bereczky: “We are trying to find donors able to further develop this project. This is a necessary project and we cannot afford to drop it, as this would mean that some cubs stand no chance of survival or they may end up in zoos or illegal shelters. A cub’s rehabilitation costs between 3,500 and 4,500 euros per year, so the project needs at least 50 thousand euros per year to survive.”
There are several thousand bears living in Romania at present, accounting for around 40% of Europe’s total bear population. (Edited by D. Vijeu)