Nine month old rescued brown bear Aida, who was brought to The Sarajevo Zoo in May of this year after being orphaned, has moved from her individual enclosure to join the two other brown bear residents in the park’s larger pen. Experts favour a sanctuary for orphaned bears for her instead.
At the beginning of December, brown bear cub Aida, a favourite among visitors and staff alike, was relocated within The Sarajevo Zoo to a new residence where she now shares a home with two older bears, Sonja and Sejo. All three bears have their own separate covered cage areas as a living space within the joint enclosure.
Having spent nearly seven months in her own private pen with the freedom to be outside at all times, sharing her daily time out in the open with the two other bears is a change for young Aida.
According to leading European brown bear expert Professor emeritus Djuro Huber of The University of Zagreb, “it is better that she is in a licenced zoo than in a private improvised enclosure…but a zoo can hardly be seen as a solution.”
Bears like Aida require “a proper sanctuary for lifetime housing,” Professor emeritus Huber told The Sarajevo Times.
Currently the nearest bear sanctuary is the Bear Refuge in Kuterevo, Croatia, followed by the Four Paws Bear Sanctuary in Pristina, Kosovo, but plans for the development of such a facility in Bosnia and Herzegovina are already in the making.
Koen Cuyten, a project manager for Bears in Mind a Netherlands-based foundation focused on working with authorities and local organizations to build projects that protect and assist bears, has confirmed that they are working on a joint plan with the Ecology & Research Association in Banja Luka to develop a bear sanctuary in BiH called ‘The Bear Sanctuary and Educational Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BSEC B&H)’.
“It was concluded that it is necessary to develop a sanctuary for brown bears in BiH…because every year several bear cubs turn up like Aida, who need specialized intervention and care and could be housed temporarily in the BSEC,” Mr Cuyten told The Sarajevo Times.
“Currently we are drawing up the overall plan and collecting data on the costs of setting up such a facility. We hope to be more concrete about the project at the end of the first quarter in 2020,” said Mr Cuyten.
Assistant Professor Dr Igor Trbojevic, a carnivore researcher from The University of Banja Luka (and partner in the BSEC project), told The Sarajevo Times that considering Aida could live up to about 40 years in captivity, “it’s a long life for someone to be in a cage and never feel freedom in their legs again.”
Aida arrived at the Sarajevo Zoo at just two months old and weighing about 5kg. Zoo personnel were initially concerned about her condition and whether she would survive as she was malnourished and did not know how to eat.
Within the first two months of being at The Sarajevo Zoo, Aida gained 15kg thanks to the dedicated team of experts and staff who taught her how to eat and successfully nurtured her recovery and development.
“The zookeepers treat and talk to Aida really fondly, like she’s their own,” Romeo Varga, a frequent visitor to the zoo, told The Sarajevo Times. “There’s a lot of love and care..and there’s pride when they talk about her achievements and growth”.
“During the Sarajevo siege, zookeepers at this park risked sniper fire and paid with their lives to ensure that the animals in their care were fed and had what they needed……so if she has to be in captivity, I’m very happy that she is in captivity here, because she’s really well taken care of,” Mr Varga said.
The Becar family who rescued Aida back in May when she ventured from the Bosnian woods onto their mountain village property in Gunjani, suspect she was orphaned as a result of poaching.
Losing her mother at two months old meant that Aida missed out on the essential training in survival and behavioral skills that bear cubs receive from their mothers in the wild.
“In nature, the cub would go with the mother to the same den this winter”, Professor emeritus Huber said. “But she went to the ‘wrong school’ with the wrong species [humans], and the rest of her life will be totally changed…she cannot live any more in nature.”
Brown bears occupy around 43 percent of the territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina, inhabiting approximately 22,000 square kilometers.
Official data records state the current number of brown bears in BiH to be at about 1200.
*KJKP Park, the company that runs the zoo, was approached for comment but did not respond.
Story and photographs by Miya Yamanouchi