on 2 October 2011
BEAR Sanctuary by Victor Watkins
Review by Lesley Winton
Founder and Director of the Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears
This wonderful new book by Victor Watkins is a must read for all bear lovers and anyone interested in the care and well being of these majestic animals and the efforts to bring an end to the cruelty and abuse they are so often subjected to.
Victor has worked in the world of animal welfare for over 30 years and set up the world's first international campaign for bears in 1991, The Libearty Campaign. He has been at the forefront of efforts to help raise awareness of the plight of bears around the world and bring an end to such atrocities as bear baiting, bear farming and dancing bears.
Victor initiated the concept of the bear sanctuary in 1992 and this has led to sanctuaries being built in Bulgaria, Thailand, Hungary, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, North America, Greece and Turkey. Before these sanctuaries were built, it was almost impossible for the authorities to confiscate illegally held bears as there was nowhere for them to go.
`BEAR Sanctuary' focuses on the Libearty Bear Sanctuary, 70 hectares of oak and hazel forest in the Carpathian Mountains near Zarnesti in Romania. The building of this sanctuary has enabled the rescue of over 50 of the country's bears from dilapidated zoos, barren cages and miserable lives as captive, exploited bears.
It highlights the complexities involved in the `legal confiscation' of these bears, the paperwork required and the enforcement of the law in Romania which forbids the private keeping of wild animals, which until the building of the sanctuary, couldn't be enforced.
Once confiscated the bears are brought to the quarantine area of the sanctuary where they are given any necessary veterinary care and treatment so that they can begin their recovery from years of suffering in captive conditions. Bears can actually live longer in captivity but sadly, this often leads to prolonged suffering. Once they emerge from their quarantine period, the bears then enjoy the magic of the forest stretching out before them, which has been designed to be as close to their natural habitat as possible. Many are feeling the grass beneath their paws for the first time since their capture as cubs. The bears can while away the hours playing in the trees, splashing in the pools, foraging for food and hibernating if they so wish, when the winter comes. Some opt to stay awake and play in the snow, but for once, the choice is theirs.
Amongst others, the book follows the rescues of some wonderful bears. There was Suzi who was rescued from a run down zoo after spending years in a circus. An incredibly nervous bear, on arrival at the sanctuary, Suzi became very attached to a tree that seemed to provide her with comfort. She would only move very small distances from the tree. Eventually she gained confidence and now mixes happily with the other bears.
And Benny an elderly 27 year old bear, who had been in the same cage for his whole life. When found, Benny was a bag of bones with weeping infected eyes. Old and doddery, he now has a special section of the sanctuary fenced off just for him.
And then there was poor old Max. Captured as a cub from the wild, he spent his life chained to railings for the entertainment of tourists. While not chained up, he was caged in a 4 metre square area and each day dragged out by a rope around his neck to yet again be, tied to the railings. That was his miserable life. When rescued and examined, the vets found that he had detached retinas and was completely blind. This may have happened at birth, but is more likely to have been the result of a trauma to his head as a cub. Max also has a special area in the sanctuary especially for him and uses his other senses of smell and hearing to get around, loving his water pool and den.
As well as writing so beautifully and informatively about the work in Romania to help bears, Victor highlights the many other issues facing bears including bear baiting, bear farming, captivity in zoos and circuses and the illegal trade of their body parts.
Bears are intelligent, complex animals and placing them in captivity and subjecting them to dreadful conditions causes them immense physical and mental distress. However, they are stoic animals and even the most broken of bears can recover, given the chance.
Thanks to the work of Victor Watkins and the many devoted bear lovers around the world, there is light at the end of the tunnel for many bears. However, there are still thousands and thousands of these magnificent creatures that still suffer greatly all around the world at the hands of humans.
BEAR Sanctuary is an incredible and beautifully illustrated book and is testament to the hard work and dedication of some amazing people whose care, compassion and unwavering commitment has saved many bears and improved their lives immeasurably.
I highly recommend this book and would urge any bear lover to buy a copy, not only will they gain an insight into the lives of bears but they will be supporting bear sanctuaries around the word as a proportion of the sale will go towards the care of the bears.
I for one, am counting the days until Victor's next book is available.
on 5 October 2011
This is a great book for anyone interested in bears, wildlife or general animal welfare issues. The book's author, world renowned bear expert Victor Watkins, initially explains the concept of a bear sanctuary, a place where bears, rescued from years of suffering in captivity, can live out their lives in natural forest habitat. Watkins' engaging writing style draws the reader in as he tells the fascinating story of the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Romania, and how it came about through the ceaseless commitment of one very driven woman, a partnership between organizations and the strong support of a colourful mayor from a rural town in Central Romania. A remarkable story, the book details the challenges of such an extensive undertaking, and presents some of the amazing bear rescue stories. Having merely existed in small, baron enclosures for many years, it is truly touching to read the stories of the bears' first experiences back in a natural habitat, where they can freely roam and sniff grass and trees, easily adapting back to their natural environment. The book also discusses some of the other international issues affecting bears in captivity and in the wild, and the efforts being made by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and other organizations to alleviate their suffering and increase their protection. BEAR Sanctuary is an enjoyable read and would make an ideal gift. I definitely recommend it!