This Sanctuary Gives Bears And Wolves Traumatised By Humans A Second Chance At Life


In north-east Greece, a sanctuary called Arcturos is on a mission to rescue bears and wolves that have been physically or psychologically traumatised by humans.


Situated on the slopes of Mount Vitsi, the sanctuary is home to more than 20 animals in large enclosures in beech tree forests. Far from the brutality of the their past, the animals are given a second chance to live the life they deserve.


refuge arcturos grèceSource: Paris Match


Created in 1992, the sanctuary was first made for dancing bears that are sadly very popular in the Balkans. This cruel practice involves bears walking on hot embers while passers-by spectate.


Since then, Melina Avgerinou, a carer at the shelter, and her teammates have been taking care of animals from places ranging from Austria to Georgia, and preparing them for their return to the wild, as Melina says:


There are other sanctuaries in the Balkans, and in Europe, but they are often full. 


refuge arcturos grèceSource: Paris Match


Among the bears at the sanctuary is Patrick who is 3 years old. This bear, found at just one month old at the Greek-Albanian border was made an orphan after his mother was killed by poachers. The shelter team released him into the wild a year ago, but the animal only returned a month later and hasn't left the sanctuary since.


Nature is not safe for him because he has not learned to be wary of humans.


Barbara, another bear, arrived at the shelter 20 years ago. Delivered from a Serbian zoo, she still shows signs of trauma from her painful past, and now spends her days in an enclosure, shaking her head.


refuge arcturos grèceSource: Paris Match


Usko, found paraplegic, would never have been able to walk without the help of the rescuers of the sanctuary who built him a tailor-made cart.


There are many problems with captive bears in the Balkans. The worst is in Albania and Skopje (Macedonia) where there are still legal gaps.


Thanks to a donation of 590 000 dollars from the Niarchos Foundation, the Arcturos shelter can afford to recover many bears and wolves. That is, a bear costs about 18,000 dollars per year, compared to 12,000 dollars for a wolf.


refuge arcturos grèceSource : Paris Match


But the sanctuary doesn't stop there. In addition to saving these animals, they also make sure that farmers are aware of their plight, by proposing alternative solutions to better preserve their herds, and the bears and wolves at the same time.


refuge arcturos grèceSource: Paris Match


For a few years, they have been developing a local species of shepherd dog, which has been threatened with extinction, giving them to farmers to look after their herds.


Vassilis Fourkiotis, a guide at the shelter from a farming background, said to French magazine, Paris Match (article in French):


We have donated over 800 puppies since 1999. Unlike other species, these dogs protect herds but do not attempt to kill predators that attack them.


refuge arcturos grèceSource: Paris Match


For the time being, the NGO would like to serve as an example to neighbouring countries so that they, too, put alternative measures in place that would make it possible to preserve wolves and bears.