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FOUR PAWS exhibition at Sofia Airport on the occasion of 15 years from the creation of Dancing bears park


60 photos reveal the story of one of the most successful projects of the international animal welfare organization

Exactly 15 years ago was the beginning of a unique project for our country which united the efforts of NGOs, local authorities and government in the name of the welfare of animals. In 2000 in Belitsa, which is situated in the skirts of Rila mountain, started the construction of Dancing bears park. On this occasion the Bulgarian office of the international animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS opened an exhibition with 60 photos representing the story of the park from the very first rescued bears in 2000 – Kalina, Mariana and Stefan up until the last sheltered in 2014 – Gabriela and Nasko. The Exhibition is at Sofia Airport at the area between the arrivals and departures and it will be there until the middle of April.

© FOUR PAWS | Daniela Klemencic

To many people, especially the previous generation, dancing bears are a vivid and colorful memory. They were a particularly frequent sight on the coast of the Black sea. Habituating bears to do different movements which resemble dancing for entertaining the public is well known from the Middle Ages. In order to tame the bears and teach them to “dance” the animals were put under extreme tortures in a very early age: their noses were pierced with rings which were used for controlling the animal; their nails and canine teeth were cut to reduce the risk of hurting the bear-trainer; the very dance movements were taught by forcing the bear to walk on hot surface. Although the bear-training was profession which was practiced by a few gypsies’ families, the zoos were contributing by breeding bears which were sold to the bear trainers and another problem was the reluctance of the government to confiscate the illegal keeping of these bears.  

© FOUR PAWS | Mihai Vasile

Everything changed at the end of XX century when a popular German television broadcasted documentary about the Bulgarian bear-trainers which shows the conditions in which they keep the animals and the tortures they are subject to. The international response to this was enormous – Thousands protest letters and petitions were sent to the Bulgarian authorities with appeal to put an end to using bears as attraction of tourists. One of the biggest European animal welfare organizations comes to aid – FOUR PAWS, which suggested building shelter for all of the 27 dancing bears. Soon a decision and an area the skirts of Rila Mountain was found where the bears could live their lives in a place suitable for their natural needs. The Foundation of the world famous French actress Bridgette Bardot took the engagement to co-finance with FOUR PAWS the project. Only for 7 years all the dancing bears in Bulgaria were sheltered, which ended this tradition. In 2009 the last three dancing bears from Republic of Serbia were brought to the park. Today the Dancing bears park is one of the biggest landmarks in South-west Bulgaria and it is visited by thousands of tourists a year from Bulgaria and abroad.

© FOUR PAWS | Karina Knapek

FOUR PAWS are especially thankful to the management of Sofia Airport for the given opportunity for popularization of the Dancing bears park and the humane relation towards animals.