Help to care for the world’s most beloved animal in Eastern Europe’s largest bear sanctuary. You’ll play a vital role in rehabilitating over 100 bears that were previously captive and abused before being rescued to this tranquil haven. Provide for the basic needs of these beautiful creatures, and enjoy seeing them flourish in their newfound freedom.
Duration: 1 – 4 weeks (2 weeks maximum between June and August)
Dates: Throughout the year except over Christmas and New Year
Arrival day: Friday
Return day: Friday
Eligibility: General level of fitness required. The sanctuary is hilly and there is a lot of walking.
- The first time you see a bear at the sanctuary – and then another, and another…. and another!
- Taking in Transylvania’s highlights – prepare for Dracula!
- Meeting the amazing locals and learning their fascinating stories
- Living minutes from Brasov’s main square – one of the prettiest places you could encounter in Eastern Europe
Bears have had a tough time of it in Romania. For years, they have been hunted as trophies, forced to dance in the streets for strangers, made to cycle around circuses and beg outside hotels. Formerly kept in cramped conditions and regularly abused by their owners, these bears are now being rescued and brought to Eastern Europe’s largest bear sanctuary.
The bear sanctuary was opened in 2006, and Oyster volunteers have been part of the rescued bears’ recoveries ever since. The sanctuary is now home to over 100 bears, providing them with a green and peaceful home, in a setting as close to the wild as possible.
Your working day starts with a wander through the sanctuary. This is the perfect opportunity to see the bears playing, climbing trees, swimming and even having a good back scratch against the trees. Arriving at the main sanctuary building you are given your tasks, which vary depending on the bears and their needs when you are there.
Typically the volunteer work with bears includes at least some of the following tasks:
- Food preparation: this will be your main task as bears need to eat up to 10kg per day to stay healthy – that’s a lot of food! Prepare to get mucky!
- Watching the bear feeding process: a real highlight is to see the bears coming out of the undergrowth to get the best bits.
- Bear watching: it is important to keep an eye on how the newest bears are coping, and how quickly they are adapting to their new surroundings. You also have the time to simply enjoy seeing the bears in their natural habitat from a treetop viewing platform and underground bunker – this is amazing, especially at feeding time!
- Sanctuary conservation work: sometimes there can be some basic maintenance work required, such as raking leaves, gathering hay for quarantine, clearing undergrowth etc
- Looking after the other sanctuary animals: the sanctuary staff can’t say no to animals in need – there are often rescued dogs, horses, donkeys and other animals living at the sanctuary that also need your attention.
One of the greatest highlights of this trip is being with the bears. The sanctuary staff are fully aware that you are there to contribute, but also to enjoy your experience with the bears. You will have ample time to wander around the huge environs of the sanctuary, simply watching the bears and building some memories for life.
Please note, the sanctuary is very hilly and you will be doing a lot of walking each day. You need to have a relatively good level of fitness, be able to life and carry – and be happy to work hard.
- Live in the medieval city of Brasov, just minutes walk away from the beautiful city centre
- Most volunteers will be based in a comfortable, central apartment that Oyster rents for you and your fellow volunteers
- At times, depending on capacity, we will accommodate some volunteers in local hotels
- WiFi included
- You should expect to share a room with at least one other volunteer. Single or private accommodation can be arranged in a comfortable nearby hotel offering breakfast at cost, approx £60 per night for a double.
- The volunteer flat has a well-equipped kitchen, two bedrooms, two toilets and a shower
- Food is not included – volunteers either cook in the flat or enjoy some of the many amazing restaurants located on your doorstep
Airport: Bucharest airport (OTP)
Arrival day: Friday. You will be collected from the airport and driven the 2 – 3 hours to Brasov.
Departure day: Friday. You will be dropped off to the airport in time for your flight.
A perfect English speaker and probably the most dynamic person you will ever meet, Razvan has run our Romania programmes since the very beginning. A veteran rep – he has dealt with over 500 volunteers so far – he always goes way beyond his Oyster job description. He is personally involved in the fundraising and awareness building of the bear sanctuary, even getting dressed up as a bear on one occasion!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a short or long-term volunteer, you still get full support from Razvan, who aims to ensure that you have a happy and productive time in Romania.
- Access to your own personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the program and manage your booking
- Dedicated contact time with an experienced destination manager to discuss the project, answer any of your questions and for us to find out more about you
- Help and advice from our UK office before arrival and whilst you are away
- In-country support
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and project advice
- Gold level, 24/7 Pharos crisis management and incident support cover
- Financial protection: ATOL (if we book your flights); IPP (if we don’t book your flights)
- Thorough orientation on arrival
- Accommodation (see the ‘accommodation’ section above for details)
- Advice on visa requirements
- Oyster plants a tree in Africa with TreeAid to help reduce the impact of global carbon emissions
- Airport transfers on arrival and departure day, 95 miles each way (Friday)
- Daily, private project transfers (45 minutes each way, 38 mile round trip)
- A book about the sanctuary
- Transport for two half-day trips: 1) Dracula’s Castle 2) Peles Castle. People staying 1 week will go on 1 trip only (to be decided upon arrival).
- Donation to project
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
- Flights – as an ATOL bonded company, Oyster can book flights for you
- You need a valid passport that meets the requirements of the country you will be travelling to
- Insurance (covering your time with Oyster and any planned independent travel)
- Any costs associated with changing your return flight date if you need to
- Independent travel costs
- Home country travel costs
- Spending money for additional trips, food and entertainment
- Entry fees on the organised trips
- Transfers on alternative days can be arranged for an additional fee
“I was lucky enough to volunteer at the bear sanctuary myself, and have loved visiting it frequently ever since. Volunteers love helping out with the bears and the beauty of the sanctuary. I can’t wait until my next trip!”
Says Anne, Destination Manager
This project is running as normal with some minor health and safety protocols in place:
- All volunteers must be fully vaccinated and able to show proof of inoculation
- All volunteers must bring masks, gloves and hand sanitiser
- All volunteers must be able to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test (taken within 72 hours before departure)
- Prepare for a thorough orientation on arrival regarding health and safety measures at your project and in your country destination
- Social distancing of 1.5m must be observed during project work
- Volunteers must wear masks during the airport transfers
- There will be a daily check for temperature and symptoms
- Protocol is, and will continue to be, followed with the aim to minimise risk to staff and volunteers
- Strictest hygiene controls are in place for equipment and all public areas.
In order to fly home, your government may require you present a negative PCR test taken a maximum of 72 hours before your flight. This may not apply to you, however please make sure that you aware of the situation between the country you are returning from and returning home to. Oyster Worldwide will support you with this process but it is your responsibility.
Below are details of getting a PCR test from this project site:
- The closest testing site is in Brasov
- The costs associated with getting the PCR test are at your own expense. At the time of writing, the test costs 295 lei.
- Volunteers generally work at the bear sanctuary from Monday to Friday.
- You should expect to be at the bear sanctuary for 6–8 hours per day, plus transfer times of about 40 minutes each way.
- The day starts at about 8 or 9am, depending on the time of year.
- Lunchtime is flexible depending on when you have completed your morning tasks. You need to take your lunch with you.
- You will be taken back to Brasov for about 4pm or 5pm (sometimes later in summer months).
- Food preparation: Unloading the food from the van, sorting all the produce (meat, fruit, vegetables, bread and dairy products). You will either put it in storage or start to prepare it for the bears, removing any packaging and cutting up the food.
- Bear feeding: You may have the chance of seeing the bears being fed your carefully prepared food items. They normally get fed by throwing the food over the sides of the enclosures or using the sanctuary vehicle. This is quite a difficult task, so you will probably just get to sit back and watch the bears come out the forest one by one for their food, often a highlight for volunteers.
- Monitoring: Once the bears are fed, you might be able to get involved with monitoring work. This involves observing the bears’ behaviour, health, hibernation, interaction and how they are adjusting to life outside.
- Ad hoc tasks: You may may be asked to take part in medical procedures, checking the enclosures, walking and checking the site around the sanctuary and feeding the other animals at the sanctuary (wolves, donkeys, a horse, a deer and some dogs).
The staff at the sanctuary find the volunteers to be a great help and always have jobs for you to do, although the tasks will vary depending on the bears and their needs whilst you are there. Other tasks can include working in the educational centre, telling visitors about the bears and your volunteer experience, and helping with any ongoing promotional work.
You can read about returned volunteer Luke’s experience as a volunteer at the bear sanctuary.
Bears have long been used as forms of entertainment and to attract tourists in Romania. This meant that many bears were being forced to live in cramped conditions outside hotels and restaurants, perform in circuses or live in dreadful circumstances in tiny enclosures in poorly constructed zoos. For years many charities, including WAP, have campaigned against this treatment, and finally in 2007 things had to change when Romania became the 27th country to join the EU.
Upon joining the EU, Romania had to introduce a new law on conditions in zoos with stricter regulations. Suddenly many zoos faced closure, leaving more than thirty bears needing a new home.
WAP, along with many local charities, raised significant funds in order to purchase a 30 hectare site outside of Brasov. Here they built what is now Eastern Europe’s largest bear sanctuary.
The bears were rescued quickly, and the sanctuary has grown over the years. It is now home to over 100 bears, both young and old, rescued from all over Romania, and sometimes even further afield.
These bears all have moving histories, which are all the more poignant when you see the beautiful haven that they are living in today, living in relative freedom and far from the cages and prying eyes of keen tourists.
The bears have come from all types of backgrounds, many of them tragic, so don’t be surprised to find this quite an emotional experience. You will pick up lots more information at the sanctuary, and also from the book that you receive on arrival in Romania.
You can follow the link to find out more about brown bears in general.
The great thing about being a bear sanctuary volunteer is that it really gets you close to the bears in a natural environment, in a way that is positive for the bears.
Volunteers are not allowed to touch the bears at the sanctuary. As the bears are recovering from previous ordeals at the hands of humans, they need time to fully rehabilitate. Physical interaction with the bears is counter-productive to the aims of the sanctuary.
All volunteers have plenty of time to watch the bears, get to know them and perceive their different personalities. Without exception, volunteers return home with a favourite bear that they have taken to their hearts while working at the sanctuary.
Oyster assesses projects carefully to ensure that they offer high standards of animal welfare and environmental practice. We also check that volunteers understand key points of good practice before working with animals. To find out more, see our animal welfare policy.
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
There are four distinct seasons in Romania:
Spring: March – May. Temperatures range from 10 – 20 degrees celsius during the day time, but can get quite cold at night time. Average 30 – 80mm of precipitation each month.
Summer: June – September. Temperatures range from 20 – 30 degrees celsius. Average 80 – 100mm of rain each month.
Autumn: September – November. Temperatures range from 10 – 20 degrees celsius during the day time, but can get quite cold at night time. Average 30 – 50mm of precipitation each month.
Winter: November – March. Temperatures range from 10 – 20 degrees celsius during the day time, but can get quite cold at night time. Average 30mm of precipitation each month.
We would recommend taking £30 – £60 per week for food, drinks and treats. You should budget separately for any outings or meals out that you might like to have.
We recommend taking at least one or two cards (debit / credit) and a small amount of cash.
Typically you won’t need a visa for stays up to 3 months. You should make sure your passport is valid for the duration of your stay.
Most of our volunteers are independent travellers and you will become part of a group of people from around the world here. It is fine to travel with friends or as part of a small group too however- more the merrier!
The simple answer to this question is, yes absolutely!
It is important to bear in mind however that this may not be like other holidays that you have taken. Remember that you are volunteering, and this means that you will be put to work! This sort of holiday is a world away from sun loungers and cocktails, with our volunteers often heading home tired but immensely satisfied. If you think that you will need a bit of relaxing time on your trip too, do make sure to factor this in when your time on the project is complete.
You should visit your doctor or travel nurse to find out what vaccinations you will need. Your routine vaccinations will need to be up to date, it is likely that you will need Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B or Rabies are a possibility. You should follow your doctor’s advice.
Brasov has many excellent medical facilities, varying from pharmacies to local doctors to hospitals. These can all be accessed within 20 minutes and are of good quality.
Brasov is a beautiful and small medieval city, located at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. It is a very warm and welcoming place, and has become very used to tourists. This makes it a very safe destination however it is important to always be sensible and responsible. Brasov is a relatively safe place with very little crime, although pickpockets target tourists so take care of your belongings. If you want to walk or trek ask for information on the wild bears! Going more off the beaten track you will receive a few more stares as these areas may not be quite so used to tourists.You will be given information on buses and the local area however so you will be well prepared for this. We give you full health and safety information before departure, as well as upon arrival.
No you do not need to learn to speak Romanian.
On this project you will be working closely with Romanians on a daily basis. To be able to make the most of this opportunity it is highly recommended that you learn some Romanian before departure. A little will go a long way- and a good amount will go even further! Some of the local staff will have limited English and really appreciate you trying. There are many good resources online as well as books and online aids to help you learn. Noroc!
Wifi is available for free in the flat, however you will need a device to connect to it. There are also plenty of WiFi hotspots in town. Some of these are free, while others charge about £1 per hour.
Very good reception in Brasov and at the bear sanctuary.
Romania is 2 hours ahead of GMT (GMT +2)
Romania has European two-pin plugs.
We arrange two half day trips, covering the cost of transportation, if you stay for 2 weeks or more. If you are staying for one week, you will only be able to do one half day trip.
Which trip you do will be decided when you are in Romania. The two options are:
- A trip to Bran castle (Dracula’s castle). Entrance fee: approx £5
- Trip to Sinaia, a nearby town with the beautiful Peles castle. Entrance fee: approx £5
There are plenty of places to visit in Brasov and the surrounding area. Situated in the heart of Romania, Brasov is a charming medieval town with an ancient history and plenty of interesting monuments. It has great transport links to other wonderful cities in Romania, and even further afield.
You will have evenings and weekends free.
You are very much encouraged to photograph the bears and the sanctuary – indeed, this is one of the great highlights of the project. Please be aware however that you will be asked to pay a fee of 35 euros if you have a camera with a telephoto lens.
Supervision will be fairly intensive during the first few days, when you will receive a thorough induction and work-related training. Once you are comfortable with things, you might not always have a supervisor working alongside you, but there will always be staff and other volunteers around to help, and you will always be accompanied for any high risk activities.
Staff at Oyster’s head office and in-country will be responsible for your safety and welfare while you are at the project. This will start from the moment you are picked up from the airport until the time you are dropped back there. Before and after these times, you will be outside Oyster’s responsibility and should make sure that you act safely and avoid risk. This is also true if you choose to leave the project during your time off. We will give you plenty of guidance and advice about this.
Oyster has personally hand-picked some of the best volunteering projects out there. With so much amazing choice, it can be hard to make a decision. Our Animal Welfare Destination Manager, Anne, has written a guide to help you to choose the best animal volunteering project for you.