Facebook saved these bears from a life in captivity

The World

There were once three bears in Kosovo, but no Goldilocks. And the bears were the ones who needed some rest and help.

It seems people just can't resist posting cute animal photos on Facebook — even when the cute animals are being held illegally.

Animal activists rescued three brown bear cubs last week — all just a month old and named Ema, Oska, and Ron — after people saw photos of the cubs on Facebook and tipped off the authorities. The bears were being kept at two homes in the western town of Peja in Kosovo. 

The cubs are now at a bear sanctuary run by the international animal organization Four Paws.

Keeping wild animals in Kosovo is illegal and authorities have cracked down on the buying and selling of brown bears. But some people still purchase bear cubs to have as pets.

"In the beginning, they are so helpless. They are blind, they can’t walk," said Carsten Hertwig, bear project leader for Four Paws. "They keep the bears like pets, like small dogs."

In 2013, Four Paws constructed a Bear Sanctuary in Pristina to house over a dozen of Kosovo's illegally-held bears that were seized by the authorities.

Most of the bears had been used as tourist attractions in restaurants, says Hertwig.

"For a restaurant, for example, it’s an attraction for the guests, or for pictures with [the bears] on a chain," she said. "There are dancing bears, or ... bears on a beach, for example, that you have to pay a little bit of money to have a picture. Also, baiting bears — where they have to fight with dogs. All these things happen to the bears."

Sometimes baby bears are bought as pets and then grow too big for their owners.

"We rescued one bear [that was six months] old and the owner was already surprised how big this bear was ... [it was] getting larger and larger and it needed more and more food and more and more space. It’s very hard to keep a bear."

As for Ema, Oska, and Ron, Hertwig said she wants the bears to eventually leave the sanctuary. "This is, hopefully, not the end. It was very important that we got the bears [young] and that they had had not so much contact with humans already," she said.

"Now we have to be very strict that only one person is in contact with them and only when it’s necessary — only when they need food. As Kosovo is a place with wild bears, our aim is to release them into the wilderness."

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