The animals were abandoned after their mothers died at the hands of poachers. There are other copies that were rescued from circuses, where they suffered abuse.
It’s his way of calming himself “when he’s stressed,” explains caregiver Melina Avgerinou. Patrick, Barbara, Usko … the bears and wolves of the shelter of the Arcturos organization, on Mount Vitsi, in northwestern Greece, are traumatized.
Patrick, three years old, was a month old when he was found wandering on the Greek-Albanian border. Apparently some poachers had killed their mother. At the age of one year they released him in his habitat but he reappeared after a month and he never left.
Arcturos has hosted animals since 1992, sometimes from faraway places, such as Austria or Georgia. “There are other shelters in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe, but they are often full,” says Avgerinou.
At present, the enclosure, near the villages of Nymfaio and Agrapidia, shelters more than twenty bears and seven wolves in beech and oak forests. It is expected the arrival of seven other wolves from an Italian zoo.
Initially Arcturos was a project to rescue dancing bears, a very popular show in the Balkans and in which the animals were forced to walk on embers.
“Nature is not a rival”
Over time it has specialized in the preparation of animals to return them to the wild environment. “There are many problems with bears in captivity in the Balkans. The worst is in Albania and Skopje (Macedonia) where there are still legal gaps, “says the carer.
The bear Barbara lives as if she were still a prisoner in a Serbian zoo, despite having been released 20 years ago she continues striding the fence, nervous and shaking her head.
Usko has not lived with chains or in cages, but is paraplegic since childhood and moves thanks to the ingenuity of the guards of Arcturos, who made him a small cart with which he moves on flat land.
Over the years, Avgerinou has specialized in taking care of the young. Since April he has been bottle-feeding Luigi, named after the Juventus goalkeeper of Turin, the Italian footballer Gianluigi Buffon.
His saviors sought his mother for two days. In vain. Soon three more bear cubs from Bulgaria will arrive. Two from Montenegro complete the Arcturos nursery. The bill is high: $ 18,000 annually for a bear and $ 12,000 for a wolf. The refuge hopes to awaken an ecological conscience in Greece, where the flora and fauna are rich but threatened. “We try to teach people who are not alone in nature and should not see it as a rival,” says one of the guides, Vassilis Fourkiotis.
In the region, where many of the approximately 400 bears and 700 wolves that are estimated to live in Greece are concentrated, the NGO sensitizes farmers to protect themselves from predators without killing them.
In this fight the people in charge of the NGO found an ally: a local breed of shepherd dogs that, incidentally, would be saved from extinction. “We have given more than 800 puppies since 1999,” explains Vassilis.
“Unlike other breeds, these dogs protect the herds without killing the predators that attack them,” he adds.
At one point, the NGO proposed to promote these guardians of herds abroad but the project was nothing. Thanks to the donation of 500,000 euros from the Niarchos Foundation, administrator of the inheritance of a well-known Greek shipowner, the refuge aspires to become a reference in the Balkans in terms of reception and veterinary care. (I)