Kosova Responds to Illegal Restaurant Zoos

Staff Writer
Brother bears caged in a restaurant saved and settled in a sanctuary

Bears put on display at Kosovan restaurants are finally getting a break.

While most restaurants are regarded for the food it produces, some Kosovan restaurants instead use caged animals to attract customers. 

Recently, however, the government has started to respond to complaints of animal cruelty by seizing a pair of brown bears held in a private zoo within a restaurant in Prizren, a southwestern town.

“In Kosovo, there are a lot of bears kept illegally in cruel conditions,” Heli Dugnler, founder and president of Four Paws, an Austrian non-governmental organization, told Reuters.

The two brother bears, named Ari and Arina, lived in a cramped 20-square-meter cage next door to a burger and pizza joint. The bears weren’t alone — wolves, dogs, sheep, cows, snakes and 60 other species are housed in the restaurant’s zoo. Visitors can visit the animals for 50 cents.

But it sounds like the brother bears were the main attraction.

“It’s like taking a child from its father,” said Salih Shehu, the owner. “I know I’m going to lose customers because whoever came spent most of their time with the bears.”

Through Four Paws, the bears were placed in a sanctuary on Thursday.

“We give these bears a new life, a new chance by offering them a huge area of nature where the bear can live normally in grass and trees, and not in concrete,” Dugnler said.

At least 15 other caged bears have been traced by authorities to Kosovan restaurants. Meanwhile, the number of wild bears in Kosovo has dwindled to below 100 as a result of illegal hunting and natural habitat destruction.

Shehu claimed he received the two bears as a gift ten years ago from United States soldiers, part of a NATO peacekeeping force in the former Serbian province, after the mama bear was killed by poachers.

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Maybe if he focused on the food instead, numbers would not dwindle.