Bears that have spent most of their life in captivity can rarely be released back into the wild. They become dependent on humans, compromising their ability to survive in the wild and which may result in bears not keeping a distance to humans, thereby posing a safety risk to both people and animals. Furthermore, many bears now cared for by FOUR PAWS were previously kept under extremely unsuitable conditions and have developed various behavioural abnormalities.
The FOUR PAWS BEAR SANCTUARIES offer a safe haven for such bears. Here, the bears have the opportunity to finally display natural behaviours. The large enclosures provide enough space for the animals to roam freely as well as to withdraw, and all have trees and/or wooden structures to climb on and ponds to bathe in. The sanctuaries also allow the bears to hibernate in winter, which is part of their natural annual cycle of activity.
FOUR PAWS endeavours to offer the best possible quality of life and care to all bears we look after in our sanctuaries. This includes, but is not limited to, the criteria listed below.
Visit BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr
The Sanctuary opened for visitors in October 2017. Like all FOUR PAWS sanctuaries, BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr offers guided tours and exhibitions aimed at educating visitors about the environment.
Large outdoor enclosures with natural vegetation and structures
The size and structure of our sanctuaries provide the animals with a near-natural environment suited to the needs of their species. The spacious enclosures allow them to wander freely as well as to withdraw from other bears and human visitors. Within the enclosures, bears can dig their own dens, but are also provided with artificial dens and/or indoor enclosures allowing them to choose where to take a rest or to hibernate. Ponds are big and deep enough for the bears to fully immerse themselves, bathe and play – bears adore water! – which also supports their grooming activities.
We let our bears choose
In line with the basic principle of all FOUR PAWS bear projects, we do not put our bears on display, but above all create an environment worth living in for the animals. Visitors are given the opportunity to gain an impression of the everyday life of these animals, but it is intrinsic to our projects that the bears can decide if they want to be seen or prefer to remain out of view.
Our interactions with the bears are strictly limited to care and trust-building activities, and do not include feeding demonstrations, the feeding of bears by visitors or any direct contact between bears and humans. Our focus lies on providing conditions that allow the bears to express species-specific behaviour in their interactions with each other and with their environment.
Experienced animal carers look after our bears every day, giving attention to their individual needs. They are supported by veterinarians specialised in wildlife medicine and who conduct regular medical checks. Our comprehensive care helps the bears to recover as much as possible from health conditions and the behavioural stereotypes related to their former confinement. The health status, diet and behaviour of our bears is observed daily and documented in the animals’ records. FOUR PAWS works in close cooperation with scientific institutions and universities that support our projects with scientific expertise.
Natural diet and feeding enrichment
Bears are omnivores and have a broad dietary spectrum. The diet of brown bears mostly consists of plants, including grass, leaves, flowers, herbs, acorns, fruits and berries, but also comprises invertebrates (insects, larvae, etc.) and vertebrates (fish and mostly smaller mammals, as well as deer). The bears in our sanctuaries are provided with a balanced diet that resembles their natural food as closely as possible. In addition to the vegetables, fruit, eggs, fish and meat they receive on a daily basis, our bears feed a lot on grass and other plants growing inside their enclosures in spring and summer. In autumn, we adapt their diet to include more calories – needed for the bears to build up fat reserves for their winter sleep – by adding more nuts, berries, fish and meat.
In the wild, a bear spends most of its time foraging. We try to simulate these circumstances in our sanctuaries as much as possible. Our animal carers distribute and hide pieces of food inside the enclosures, and constantly develop new techniques to keep our bears occupied. The intelligence and skills of our bears are challenged through various feeding enrichment methods, such as the use of objects filled with food that require patience and problem-solving skills to extract.
Use of enrichment
Our animal carers provide the bears with a broad range of behavioural and environmental enrichment desgined to encourage the display of natural behaviours, keep the animals occupied, and stimulate their natural playfulness and curiosity.
It is important to keep the bears occupied as in their natural environment they would be busy foraging throughout the day. Our bears do not hunt or roam territories of several square kilometres to gather food, as brown bears would in the wild. Thus, enrichment methods are used to stimulate species-specific behaviour (e.g. digging and climbing) and help the bears to gain self-confidence in their skills (e.g. by retrieving a delicious snack hidden inside an object) and develop trust in the environment they live in.
In order to prevent a bear rescued by FOUR PAWS by being replaced with another captive bear, FOUR PAWS seeks the agreement of former owners and/or relevant authorities that they will refrain from keeping and breeding further animals.
Our sanctuaries provide the right conditions to encourage bears to hibernate (in fact, bears go into a state of torpor rather than deep hibernation). The bears receive the appropriate quantity of food rich in carbohydrates and fat (in autumn, 6–8 kg per 100 kg of body weight per day; in winter, bears that are not sleeping receive only 1–1.5 kg per 100 kg of body weight per day). The animals are also provided with suitable places to withdraw; some dig their own dens, while others prefer to sleep in artificial dens built in the outdoor enclosures or in straw nests prepared in their indoor enclosures.
When we give a home to a bear in one of our FOUR PAWS sanctuaries, we commit to providing this animal with shelter and high-quality care for the rest of its life.