An Oasis for Bears in Romania

By , February 3, 2016

Guest Post: Claudia Flisi visits the LiBearty sanctuary for orphaned and abused bears in Transylvania.

Did my guide know something I didn’t? Adrian refused to accompany me inside the LiBearty Sanctuary outside of Zărnești in Braşov County, Transylvania. He knew about the work of the sanctuary of course; he is Romanian-born and a professional guide. But he demurred: “My heart is too soft so I cannot go with you. Please understand.”

I did understand. Zărnești is in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, the crossroads of monstrous myths. Yet the back stories of the sanctuary’s shaggy residents are more unbelievable than Bram Stoker’s tales of Transylvanian vampires. Deliberate blinding, forced alcoholism, involuntary drug addiction, and calculated maiming – not to mention orphans sold into slavery – are oft-told tales at LiBearty Sanctuary.

The back stories of the bears at the sanctuary are more unbelievable than Bram Stoker’s tales of Transylvanian vampires.

The 69-hectare reserve is the largest refuge for brown bears in the world in area and numbers. Since Romania hosts 60 percent of all wild brown bears in Europe (not counting Russia) and also is home to the largest remaining virgin forest on the continent, the location makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is how the bears have fared in their proximity to man. LiBearty’s 80-some bears have suffered more cruelty and bestiality than the human mind can comprehend – never mind that humans alone have been responsible for such cruelty.

LiBearty-Graeme-020216Take Graeme for example. Graeme and his brother were orphaned by hunters in 1994. They killed the cubs’ mother for sport, then locked up the two brothers in a small cage to serve as attractions for visitors to a mountain mining company.

As mining declined, the growing cubs fought for what little food came their way, and Graeme was blinded in one eye. A zoo took him away to pace for years in a wire enclosure, while his brother was abandoned to starve to death in his tiny cage.

Graeme came to LiBearty in 2013 and now, after 21 years of suffering, enjoys open spaces with trees, ponds, and grass, and an ursine companion from his zoo days.

Or Max. Born in 1997 and orphaned soon after, Max became a tourist attraction as a cub. He was chained near a castle in Sinaia so visitors could pay to have their pictures taken with him. To make sure he wouldn’t cause problems as he grew, Max was deliberately blinded and his sharp canine teeth and claws were cut off. Pepper spray was sprayed into his nose to keep him from reacting to smells, and he was drugged every day with tranquilizers dissolved in beer.

LiBearty rescued him in 2006. They couldn’t restore his sight, so they created a private acre-large enclosure for him, where he bathes in his own pool, hibernates in his own den, and spends his days enjoying the sun and the sounds of nature.

“Soon she began to recognize the sound of our car and would stand up to greet us when we arrived.”

Max’s story, his expressive face, and his gentle demeanor move visitors more than those of any other resident of the sanctuary. When I mentioned seeing him to Adrian after my visit, he blanched. “I knew that bear. I would see him in Sinaia when he was still a cub. I knew something was wrong, but there was no one to complain to, back then …”

The fact that “there was no one to complain to” is what moved Cristina Lapis to create the sanctuary in the first place. A long-time animal activist, Lapis is a former journalist from the city of Brașov, about 30 km. northeast of Zărnești. She and her husband Roger, France’s honorary consul to Romania, established the Millions of Friends Association (AMP) in 1997, focusing on the rescue of stray dogs. It is the oldest animal welfare NGO in the country, and today looks after 700 dogs in two shelters.

LiBearty-Cristina-Lapis-020216Less than a year after starting AMP, Lapis encountered Maya. The young brown bear was in a small dirty cage near the tourist attraction of Bran Castle in Transylvania. She had no regular food, no care, no stimulation, only the jeering of tourists and the occasional beer bottle.

Lapis recalls her “boundless rage against the people who could condemn such an animal to a slow and painful death like this.”

For the following four years, Lapis, her husband, and friends traveled 100 miles every day to bring food, water and companionship to the neglected bear. Results were initially promising: “We were able to improve her health and lift her spirits … Soon she began to recognize the sound of our car and would stand up to greet us when we arrived.”

The problem was that Maya had nowhere to go. Zoos at that time were not an improvement in space or cleanliness. There were no shelters for large wild animals, and no money to maintain them, had they existed.

Maya became depressed again, as animals do in captivity. She self-mutilated her right paw, ripping her flesh to the bone. She lost her appetite and the will to live. She died literally in the arms of Cristina Lapis, as the latter rocked her and stroked her fur, on March 11, 2002. Over the bear’s stiffening body, Lapis vowed that she would create a sanctuary for other bears so that they would not suffer a similar fate.

Lapis vowed that she would create a sanctuary for other bears so that they would not suffer a similar fate

LiBearty Sanctury…


Urgent: Stop the Las Vegas Trophy Hunting Auction!

theo bronkhorst

BY: Jennifer Johnson

  • TARGET: Mandalay Bay Hotel & Convention Center, Las Vegas


 42,991 supporters


we’ve got 42,991 supporters, help us get to 45,000

More than 20,000 trophy hunters are descending on Las Vegas this week to place bids at a trophy hunting auction. 

Sign this petition to demand the Mandalay Bay Hotel cancel the 4-day event and promise not to hold any future auctions encouraging the slaughter of animals.

This disgusting event is organized by Safari Club International (of which the notorious killer of Cecil the lion is a part) and is selling off permits to kill 600 animals in 32 countries. Animals targeted by the event include the Iberian red deer and even African elephants.

These are animals we need to be protecting, not encouraging people to kill. Join the campaign asking Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center to shut down this event and promise not to hold another animal slaughter auction.

Senate Committee Passes Anti-Wildlife Package with Poison Pills, Strips Wolves of Federal Protections

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today added several poison pill provisions to the so-called Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, S. 659, which already threatened the interests of wildlife, conservation and public lands, but now is an even more extreme measure.

Among other harmful provisions, the bill now strips wolves of their federal protections in four states under the Endangered Species Act, subverting the judicial process and subjecting hundreds of wolves to hostile state practices such as baiting, hound hunting, and painful steel-jawed leghold traps. It also blocks federal wildlife officials from making decisions about cruel and inhumane predator control practices on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.

In response to the EPW vote, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States said: “This was already an awful bill, but now it’s an appalling one — undermining the federal courts and removing federal protections for endangered wolves, denying proper oversight of toxic lead in the environment, blocking carefully considered rulemaking to protect animals on national wildlife refuges, among other destructive provisions.  This bill is a grab bag of miscellaneous items that the trophy hunting lobby cannot secure in free standing bills, and Congress should give it a quick, clean kill shot.”

A few of the harmful provisions included in S. 659 are as follows:


Just last month, Congress rejected a rider to the end-of-year spending bill that would have removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming. Today, the committee adopted by voice vote an amendment by Senator Barrasso, R-WY, to accomplish the same. This proposal would both subvert judicial processes and undermine the ESA, one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. When wolves were delisted in 2012, 20 percent of the Wisconsin population was wiped out in three hunting seasons, including 17 entire family units. In a three year period, more than 1,500 wolves were killed in the Great Lakes states alone. It is clear that federal oversight is necessary to provide adequate protections for gray wolves as required by the ESA.copyrighted wolf in water

AK Predator Control

An amendment proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK, and adopted on a straight party-line vote would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing a rule and going through a public process on cruel predator control methods like the trapping and baiting of wolves and bears in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.


The bill contains troubling provisions that relate to the use of lead ammunition, at a time when non-toxic ammunition is available to all hunters, and is less harmful to wild animals, land, and human health. The committee rejected a common sense amendment by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, that would have narrowed the exemption for sport fishing equipment from the Toxic Controlled Substances Act to focus on lead content. Senator Boxer’s amendment would have required periodic reports by the Environmental Protection Agency on the health impacts of lead in fishing equipment.

Polar Bears

A provision of the bill would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. The animals were not shot for their meat, but just for trophies and bragging rights. It’s the latest in a series of these import allowances for polar bear hunters, and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a congressional waiver to bring back their trophies. The committee today rejected an amendment by Sen. Boxer that offered a sensible middle ground on this issue, and would have allowed the import of 41 questionable polar bear trophies, while making absolutely clear that the one-time carve-out is not intended to set a precedent.

Las Vegas Rally for Cecil

Join the Las Vegas Rally For Cecil and speak out against evil trophy hunting!

The Las Vegas Rally For Cecil will also feature demonstrations to be held at the Mandalay Bay on every day that Safari Club International is in town.

We anticipate protest times to be: Feb 3, 4 & 5: 6-7:30 Feb 6 (Worldwide Rally For Cecil): 10-12 We will finalize the times of our protests and the Rally in January.

Posters and literature will be provided. If you choose to make your own, please do not use violent or aggressive language. These will be peaceful, educational demonstrations focused on raising public awareness.

Worldwide Rally for Cecil Day in Santa Fe New Mexico

Worldwide Rally for Cecil Day in Santa Fe New Mexico
February 6th at 11:00am.  Lasts until 2:00pm.
At the Roundhouse/statehouse, at the entrance by the corner of Paseo De Peralta and old Santa Fe Trail.
We are trying to help Mountain Lions in New Mexico while also honoring and remembering Cecil.
By reminding our NM government leaders that a civilized society does not condone trophy hunting nor trapping.  Please show your support.
You can share invitations easily from our event’s Facebook page, at this link:
David Forjan
Creative Director
The Animal News Hour

US carnivore hunting policies are scientifically lacking



By now you probably know the arguments for the monitored, controlled, legalized forms of wildlife hunting. It has the potential to reduce conflict with humans and can provide much-needed revenue to be put toward conservation efforts. But not all populations are created equal; applied to the wrong ecosystem, hunting can also drive population declines, the echoes of which will reverberate throughout its landscape. In this week’s issue of Science Magazine, a group of researchers led by Montana State University wildlife biologist Scott Creel argue that wolf hunting policies in the US don’t align with the best evidence that science has to offer.

After wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) in the mid-1990s, the carnivore population grew stronger. But that trend stopped in 2009. That’s because in 2008, the population lost its protection under the ESA and hunting became legalized.

Reviews by the USFWS say that hunting “has not increased any risk” to the NRM wolf population, but Creel and his colleagues aren’t so sure. “Current policies state that half of a wolf population can be shot annually without causing the population to decline,” said Creel in an official statement. “On the basis of ecological theory, this suggestion is not likely to be correct for the wolf, or indeed for any large carnivore.”

Fully-grown, mature large carnivores usually have low mortality rates. They are the kings of their jungles, after all. Hunting doesn’t substitute for other causes of wolf death, as is more likely the case for ungulates like deer. For animals like wolves, hunting pressures instead add to the mortality rate. After hunting was legalized in Montana and Idaho in 2008, wolf pack size there declined by nearly a third. And hunting doesn’t just impact group size – it also affects a group’s social order, which impacts the likelihood that juveniles will grow to reproductive age. Indeed, in 2013, five years after hunting was legalized, hunters took 25% fewer wolves – despite an extended hunting season!

How can the scientific evidence and the USFWS review be so contradictory? Creel’s group suggests that there can be a mismatch between the animals that provide the data to inform policy decisions and the animals to which that policy applies. “Carnivore distributions do not follow political borders, but hunting policies do,” they say. Just because the overall Northern Rocky Mountains population has been relatively stable under pressure from hunting doesn’t mean that the packs in any given state are equally so. Idaho’s annual wolf counts declined by nearly a quarter between 2008 and 2013.

More importantly, Creel’s group says the studies on which the USFWS based their review focused on wolf populations that could recruit immigrant wolves from other, nearby populations. Those local losses to hunting could be replaced by the influx of new individuals from elsewhere. It’s not that wolves are able to compensate for local losses, but it might appear that way if you’re not looking very closely. By analogy, while African lions may be protected within national parks, legalized hunting just outside of parks can still destabilize the overall lion population. Harvesting lions outside of parks creates a “vacuum,” drawing in the otherwise protected lions from inside of parks – leaving them vulnerable to hunting.

There can be a sustainable way forward for carnivore hunting. The future of wildlife management in most parts of the world probably includes at least some carefully controlled harvest. But if legalized hunting is to occur, the researchers say that policies need to be based on rigorous, empirical science, which requires “clearly defined, quantitative” goals.

Current wolf hunting policies in the NRM simply aim to avoid a population crash so severe that it would require re-listing under the ESA, but that’s too hand-wavy a target. Instead, policies should specify things like maximum harvest rates or goals for population size or growth from year to year. According to Creel, “the North American model of wildlife management works very well for species like ducks or elk, but becomes much more complex for species like wolves that compete with hunters.” – Jason G. Goldman | 18 December 2015

Source: Creel, S., Becker, M., Christianson, D., Dröge, E., Hammerschlag, N., Haward, M.W., Karanth, U., Loveridge, A., Macdonald, D.W., Wigganson, M., M’soka, J., Murray, D, Rosenblatt, E, Schuette, P. (2015) Questionable policy for large carnivore hunting. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4768.

Decision to declare lions endangered comes just months after the death of ‘Cecil the Lion’


“If hunting is part of a conservation strategy, then it’s part of a failing strategy,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on a conference call for journalists. The rule is “not reacting to Cecil specifically or any other incident specific, but rather an overwhelming body of science that says that lions are threatened.”

Hefty fees paid in the by hunters of big game like lions ostensibly help fund conservation efforts. But some wildlife experts question whether the policies have been effective as implemented. Lion populations have declined by 43% during the last 20 years, according to the FWS.

The endangered listing comes along with a number of new policies, including new permit requirements for hunters hoping to import trophies from lion hunts. The agency said it will only issue permits in accordance with science on how best to conserve lion species. The rules also give the FWS authority to deny permits to anyone previously found guilty of violating wildlife laws.

The decision drew immediate praise from animal rights activists who have been working for more than four years to list African lions as endangered. Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the U.S. Humane Society, described the new rule as “one of the most consequential” from the FWS in years. “This listing decision…is likely to dramatically change the equation for American trophy hunters who have been killing lions by the hundreds each year for their parts,” he said in a statement.

Animal rights activists upset over trophy hunting show planned in Toronto

N.C. poultry worker arrested after video shows him stomping, throwing chickens
“A graphic undercover video depicting a poultry worker stomping
chickens, breaking their necks and throwing them against a wall has
prompted authorities in North Carolina to file criminal charges
against the worker, the latest in an ongoing battle over animal rights
playing out in U.S. factory farms and slaughterhouses.
“The video was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday by the animal rights
group Mercy For Animals, which said the worker was arrested on animal
abuse charges on Tuesday.”

Tiger Trainer Defends Animal Shows at Santa’s Enchanted Forest
“Last month, sign-waving demonstrators massed in front of Tropical
Park to try to dissuade customers from buying tickets to Christmas
mainstay Santa’s Enchanted Forest. Their complaint: The live tigers
and other animals used in shows at the theme park are mistreated.”

Animal rights activists upset over trophy hunting show planned in Toronto
“TORONTO — Tensions between animal rights activists and big-game
hunters are set to boil over thanks to a trophy hunting conference
scheduled for Toronto next month.
“Several animal rights groups are planning to protest the African
Hunting Events show at a suburban Holiday Inn in mid-January.
“Camille Labchuk, a lawyer with Animal Justice, has started an online
petition demanding the hotel cancel the event, saying it is cruel to
hunt lions and elephants.”