Monday, 8 December 2014

Strictly no dancing, by Anna Stamatiou

Last month, quietly, on a wooded hillside in northern Greece, an American black bear died.  Giorgos was found lying lifeless in his enclosure at the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre run by the NGO, Arcturos.    He was the only resident of his species at the centre, which specialises in wolves and bears, having been confiscated in 1991 from his previous owner who had been using him as a dancing bear.  Before that he had been a circus animal.  Because of his history of long contact with humans it was never going to be possible to release him into the wild – and there is no naturally occurring population of black bears in northern Greece.  However, he lived happily at the centre, where over 20 years his health improved and he was able to form a close bond with Tasoula, a brown bear.  Giorgos took to digging out a den large enough for both of them each Winter, and they would hibernate together. 

This one bear’s story is emblematic of the success of the organisations that campaigned long and hard to end the suffering of performing bears and outlaw their use in travelling circuses and shows in Greece.  Arcturos was originally set up to achieve this objective and GAWF/Animal Action also played a very active role, extending the ban to all animals.  Giorgos could be confiscated because attitudes to dancing bears and holding wild animals in captivity have changed so much in Greece – and elsewhere – and laws have gradually been revised to reflect this.  In 2012 Greece became the first country in the EU to ban all animal performances.

Giorgos found dignity and companionship at the rescue centre, where his uniqueness, his glossy coat and quiet demeanour made him popular with visitors.  Staff reported that he was gentle but also stubborn.  After his pretty rocky start in life I guess no one much begrudged his occasionally behaving like… a bit of a bear.

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