In February I returned to the bear sanctuary in Romania for the first time since I was a volunteer there in 2009. I remember leaving the sanctuary back in 2009, after three months as a volunteer there, with an extremely heavy heart. Returning back after four years away was like coming home.
The sanctuary has really developed over the past four years. A new enclosure has sprung up, providing a home to up to thirty more bears. The area has expanded dramatically to enable more people to understand the complexities of animal welfare in Romania (through a visitor centre and an underground bear watching station), as well as to shelter the increasing number of abused bears needing a haven. The bears have great access to running water, trees to climb in, dens to sleep in and undergrowth to hide in. The thrill of seeing the bears playing, chasing each other and watching over the sanctuary from the treetops returned so suddenly, it felt like I had never been away.
Whilst I was a volunteer at the bear sanctuary in Romania, there were two very timid and shy bears in the training pen, Katie and Doro. The training pen is a relatively small enclosure where new bears will start their lives at the sanctuary. It is the place where they learn about space (how it is possible for somewhere to exist that you can roam in properly!), about trees, water, grass and other bears. They start their journey very timidly, and over time they learn to acclimatise and enjoy this new found freedom. Depending on how quickly they can adapt, they are then released into the large forest enclosure, where life is as similar to the wild as it can possibly be. I was privilleged enough to experience Katie and Doro’s whole journey- arriving as scared bears that could just pace one metre along the fence- to seeing them spread their wings, learn to enjoy the space and eventually get rehabilitated into the large enclosure. I was very pleased to see Doro when I was there in February.
Another favourite of mine is Max, the bear that has been cruelly blinded by his previous owners, anxious to stop him escaping. I adopted Max back in 2010, and have constantly been hearing about his progress since. To see him actually hibernating (relatively rare for abused bears!) in February was a real joy.
All in all, my trip back to the bear sanctuary in Romania was a fantastic return down memory lane. The time that I spent there was some of the happiest in my life- good outdoors work next to my favourite animals, what more could I have wanted? And that doesn’t even bring me on to how much I fell in love with Romania.
But that’s for another blog, another day…
Have a look at Oyster Worldwide’s website to find out more about volunteering with bears in Romania, or contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org