Bears who were formerly abused have nicer lives at a Bulgarian sanctuary. Despite the abuse they fled from, they still remain generous of spirit. They had to re-learn how to be bears. With patience and time, the bears started loving life again. They even made a new friend – a curious fox who shares apples with them.

13. Dancing Brown Bears

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

A cruel tradition in Bulgaria, the dancing brown bear was once the symbol of the nation. Bears were taken from their mothers and trained to dance for entertainment. To train them, people would oiled the bear’s paws and then force it to stand on a metallic plate on top of burning charcoal. The bears would be pulled up to stand on the back feet, as a person played a violin.

12. Rescuing Bears

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

The 1990’s brought substantial change to the situation for Bulgarian dancing bears. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation teamed with Four Paw s International to save all of the known dancing bears. The groups today continue to find dancing bears who are held illegally. Whenever possible they rescue bears and bring them to the sanctuary.

11. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation

Image: Brigitte Bardot Foundation

French actress Brigitte Bardot founded her organization after being horrified by animal cruelty. In addition to creating shelters for the dancing bears, the foundation has helped create shelters for elephants in South Africa, koalas in Australia, and primates in Cameroon. It has also reintroduced several animal species that had completely disappeared in Senegal and participated in the reintroduction of wolves to the Alps.

10. Dancing Bears Park Belitsa

Dancing Bears Park Belitsa

By the late 1980’s, brown bears were endangered in the country. In 1998, the country formally banned dancing bears. Four Paws founded dancing Bears Park in Belitsa in 2000. They created a sanctuary for bears who were formerly forced to dance. The bears had spent their whole lives in captivity so were not suitable to be returned to the wild.

9. Natural Instincts

Dancing Bears Park Belitsa

Twenty bears live at Dancing Bears Park. These bears ere taken from their mothers so they had forgotten many of the natural instincts, or never learned them. They were abused and forced to eat garbage. Sadly, they even forgot that bears actually hibernate in the winter.

8. Hibernation

Image: North American Bear Center

These brown bears have turned their lives around substantially since moving to the sanctuary. In 2017, all the bears hibernated for the first time! This is due to the training and attention of staff, who carefully reintroduced the bears to the bear ways of life. Everyone was thrilled to see them learn to hibernate.

7. Healthy Lifestyle

Dancing Bears Park Belitsa

No longer are bears forced to eat garbage. They now have fresh fruit and food that is suitable for bears. They are also in excellent health. That includes making friends, both with each other and with other species who have introduced themselves. The bears’ top friend is actually a wild fox.

6. A Fox Family

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

The bears are friendly with this wild fox who visits the sanctuary frequently. The small fox showed up last year in the winter. He even brought a few of his curious family members with him. The small fox, however, was the only one brave enough to check out the bears up close.

5. Having an Apple

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

The fox enjoys being near the bears, even while they are eating. As for the bears, they enjoy his company, too. In fact, when he reached out and helped himself to one of the apples they were eating, they didn’t even mind.

4. Hanging Out

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

“Last year it was a whole family,” said Velichka Trichkova, organizer of sales and advertising for the sanctuary. Their camera footage of the bears show the fox getting up close to them, grabbing an apple and preparing to run away so he doesn’t get in trouble. One of his family members waits in the distance as if to say, “come on!”

3. Enjoying a Snack

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

But the little fox thinks twice about running away so soon. He seems intrigued by seeing the bears up close. Instead they invited him to have his snack alongside them. So the bears and fox eat together. This was not the last the bears have seen of the friend.

2. The Fox Returns

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

This summer, the fox came back. “This summer it is the same one,” Trichkova said, “but only one.” He’s bigger and even bolder. Again, he checked out a bear’s stash of apples and took one for himself. Although it seems like the fox just might be interested in the apples, not the bears, he also likes the bears on their own. On one visit he lounged around the pool, waiting for his bear friends.

1. Bears Love Apples

Image: Four Paws Belitsa

Bears are essentially meat-eaters who have adapted to their environment to eat other kinds of food. Since they hibernate, they look to fatten up during spring and summer, adding layers of fat so they have energy during their months of deep sleeping. With its sugar and easily digestible meat, apples make a good resource for bears. So yes, bears do enjoy their apples!