The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matthew Brunwasser wrote an interesting article a few days ago about efforts to help dancing bears in Bulgaria. Dancing bears are illegal in Bulgaria, but the government does not strictly enforce the ban.
Enter Four Paws, a European animal organization that in November 2000 built a square-kilometer park in Belitsa, Bulgaria, for the bears. It buys bears from entertainers for about $5,000 per bear and retires them to the park.
All of which has some in Belitsa wondering about the priorities of European donors. Each bear eats about $200/month in food, whereas the per capita monthly income of Belitsa residents is a mere $120/month.
Belitsa resident Kostadin Trichov told Brunwasser, “There’s a saying in town: ‘There’s nothing better than to be a bear in Belitsa.'”
Bulgarian filmmaker Assen Valdimirov has produced a documentary about the park called “Of Bears and Men” and complained to Brunwasser,
The people in town are shocked, all of Bulgaria is shocked. It’s ridiculous to spend such money for six bears here. They are more horrified by the conditions of the animals than the people.
For his part, Four Paws’ Josef Pfabigan says that the poverty in Belitsa is not his problem.
It’s not my business to think about money. My business is a project for animal protection. Bears are the point. For the people in the region it’s about business.
According to Brunwasser, the bear park has changed attitudes in Bulgaria about bear dancing, but Bulgarians may be getting a mixed message. He reports that one couple took the $5,000 they received from selling their bear and promptly bought a monkey to use for street busking.
Dancing bears get help, but not Bulgaria’s poor. Matthew Brunwasser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 3, 2002.