TIRANA: After more than two decades in a cage at an Albanian restaurant for diners to look at, brown bear Mark is heading towards a better life in an Austrian sanctuary, reports AFP.
Until now, he has spent his life entertaining visitors to the Sofra e Ariut (Bear's Table) restaurant in Tirana along with his sister Liza. But on Wednesday, under heavy anaesthetic, he started his journey to the Aberbasch shelter in northern Austria, thanks to the Four Paws animal welfare group. Their rescue operation came too late for his sister however. She died two years ago. Both bears were brought to the restaurant as cubs two decades ago after their mother was shot dead, according to its then owners.
Left out in the open and at the mercy of extreme weather the bears were never allowed to hibernate, said Four Paws.
Now Mark, at 250 kilos (550 pounds) is overweight and has difficulties moving. Due to boredom and stress he has developed anxiety disorders, becoming aggressive and growling at the slightest noise.
And his condition only worsened in 2020 when Liza died.
Mark couldn't stop crying for two or three months, Hiqmet Murati, the bears' keeper for 20 years, told AFP.
Their owners even let the pair mate, but none of the cubs survived because their stressed-out parents bit them to death, he added.
His poor diet and 20 years in a cage means he suffers from joint, muscle, eye and vital organs problems, said the Four Paws experts.
Once in the sanctuary, Mark will get the veterinary care and proper food he needs so he can recover quickly and enjoy a life worthy of a bear, said Shehu.
But this bear's plight is not the only case that Four Paws has had to deal with, said Shehu, who is a biodiversity expert.
This the 34th wild animal the organisation with help of its peers has moved out of Albania, he said.
Urgent action is also needed against the growing illegal wildlife trade in the country, said Four Paws coordinator Magdalena Scherk-Trettin.
The authorities in Albania say they are considering opening a sanctuary for confiscated wild animals.
Four Paws says Mark is the last of Albania's so-called restaurant bears.
But it added in a statement While Mark's rescue is a significant milestone, bears in Albania are still in danger of being abused as pets or tourist attractions in the future without a change in legislation.
Big cats too were being traded illegally and suffering from poor treatment from private owners, it added.
The restaurant meanwhile will be removing the cage that held them the bears - but it will keep its name.