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DANCING BEARS PARK Belitsa, located in the Rila Mountains, 170km south-east of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, was opened in 2000 and extended in 2004. FOUR PAWS has already rescued 28 former dancing bears and provided a new species-appropriate home for them here. Currently, 26 bears (21 dancing bears, 4 bears from zoos, and 1 from private keeping) live in an area of around 12 hectares. The park’s information centre has an observation platform with a view of the entire area, and a medical treatment room for the bears. The fact that so many of the former dancing bears in Belitsa now hibernate is a sign that the animals are much happier now, and that the living conditions match their natural requirements. Moreover, about half of the bears dig their own dens.

© FOUR PAWS International/Cher

The background - how does a bear become a dancing bear?

Young bears are captured in the wild, separated from their mothers, and taught by a trainer to become dancing bears in conditions of unimaginable cruelty. The young animals are forced onto sheets of glowing hot metal and, in order to escape the pain, the bears alternately lift up one paw and then another while a musical tune plays along. The process is repeated again and again until the animals automatically begin to raise their paws - to "dance" - in fear of the pain, even without the hot metal sheets.


As the bears begin to grow the trainers can no longer make them obey without inflicting pain, so rings are put through their highly sensitive noses and chaps. Then chains are attached to the rings so that the trainers can control the animals, which weigh up to 350 kilograms, with only a slight tug on the chains.

For the trainers' safety, the animals' claws (through which blood flows) are trimmed several times a year. Without anaesthetic the pain is unimaginable, comparable to cutting off a human being's fingertips.

Bad food consisting mainly of white bread, sugar and schnapps along with poor shelter, are often the cause of additional, sometimes very serious, health problems for the animals.