Europe's captive

Bears Uncovered shows where bears are still kept captive in Europe

Bears remain in captivity in Europe - in private zoos, monasteries, guest houses, and outside restaurants, which sell bear meat on the menu.

We have visited, filmed and documented bears in captivity in Italy, Slovenia, Albania and Romania, where the level of care for the bears varies.

Here are our results. But we also want to know if we have missed any. Please email us at with any information.
We want to map all the bears in captivity in Europe, so we can understand the scale of this issue.

Captive bear locations


Region: Southeast Slovenia
Location: Stara Cerkev
Bear on the menu: Gostilna Tusek
Next to a petrol station on a busy road in the south of Slovenia is Gostilna Tusek - a guesthouse and restaurant. At the back is a farm with goats, ponies and chickens, and a double-fenced area. Two old and slow bears lie inside on a concrete floor. The waitress says these are rescue bears.
One the menu of the restaurant are horse dishes, and a goulash made from bear meat. The chunks of bear in a creamy sauce are served with fried cornmeal and cranberries for 17 euros.
Region: Upper Carniola
Location: Žirovnica
Mama bear alone: Lovski dom Stol
The restaurant Lovski Dom Stol in Zirovnica, Slovenia, used to host both a male and female bear. Five years ago, they had a cub, who has since moved to another location near the seaside. The father died, and the mother remains. According to the owner, she is 20 years old. The bear lives on a mixed diet and is nimble enough to climb up the fence of her cage.
Inside the restaurant are stuffed foxes, swans and badgers, and bear hides and stuffed bear paws on the walls. A bear head with open jaws hangs next to a framed black and white photo of Marshall Josip Broz Tito, former president of Yugoslavia.

Region: Gorizia
Location: Vipava
Old bear: Abram Nanos
Abram Nanos is a tourist farm and restaurant in the middle of a forest, where an old bear, Mitko, lives next to a goat enclosure. He is 28 years old, and the owners reportedly found him in a village near the site when he was a baby. He sleeps in a little cave inside his cage, and eats watermelon.
Why are there still restaurant bears in Slovenia?
Slovenia has passed a law that allows the bears to stay in restaurants until they naturally die. We found four bears in the country. There may be more.
It is terrible to see bears in cages. They don’t belong in cages. They are wild animals. They are not domesticated. They are also exhibiting unnatural behaviour. They just pace up and down or they stand there or sit there and go crazy because there is nothing for them to do but exist
“The law puts the minimum standards on how big the cage must be. We do not believe that is enough for the wellbeing of the bear. A bear in captivity needs bigger enclosures. They need burrows. They need grass. They need more space. Torturing them in small cages is wrong.
Maša Cerjak Kastelic, Director, DZZZ Society for the Protection of Animals Ljubljana
If one bear is lost without a mother after a car accident, the question is: what is better for this bear? To spend their whole life caught in a cage or to be shot? I think it is a question for each of us - what is the preference?
Miha Mlakar, founder, bear-watching Slovenian Bears
I do not think they will be able to go back into nature. I don’t want to shoot them. But sanctuaries are a way to go, where they have more space, exhibit their natural behaviour and where they can live a good life.
Maša Cerjak Kastelic, DZZZ


Region: Skrapar District
Location: Mount Tomorr, Ujanik
Two missing bears: Perla e Tomorrit
Outside Albanian guesthouse Perla e Tomorrit we visited two young bears in a fenced-off area in 2023. The owners invite guests into the enclosure to take pictures of the bears. However, in January 2024, the two bears went missing. We further investigated, and found the bears were set free. However, they are a little used to their former cage and the company of humans, and return to this location. This period in the enclosure may have messed up the bear’s behaviour.
If the bears are taken as cubs it’s not possible to bring them back into the wild because they haven;t developed the instinct of surviving in the wild because they haven’t developed these specialist instincts to help them create a way to live the rest of their lives.
Aleksandër Trajçe, Executive director, Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania


Region: Trento
Location: Sanctuary of San Romedio
Holy bear: San Remedio
In a walled enclosure in Trento Province’s monastery of San Remedio is a ring of naked earth with a grassy core. This is stamped by the feet of Bruno, a sweaty, 400-kilogramme Carpathian bear who walks around in circles. Although he has access to one hectare, for a large amount of the day he goes round and round on this spot. Bruno used to live in a funfair in Palestrina near Rome, where his owners forced him to dance for money. At night, he was locked in a cage, only large enough for him to pace about in a circle. This is probably why he continues to make the same motions, despite having more freedom.

San Romedio monastery is the site of a bear legend. Around the 5th century a rich Bavarian nobleman named Romedius made a pilgrimage to Rome. Enraptured by the splendour of the Papal State, he gave away his possessions to the Church, and went to live in a hermitage in Trentino’s Non Valley, with two companions, Abraham and David.

From the locals, Romedius heard that a bishop, called Vigilius, was due to visit the nearby town of Trento, and wanted to meet him. He asked his companion, David, to saddle up a horse for the journey. David went looking, and found the horse had been savaged by a bear.
Romedius told David to find the bear. He wanted the animal to understand the consequences of his actions. Romedius saddled the bear, placed a bridle and bit around its face, and rode the bear to Trento to meet the bishop. Later, the bear lived with him in the hermitage.

Now the Sanctuary of San Remedio is a Franciscan monastery surrounded by rocks, with five churches built on top of each other over the last thousand years.
There are pictures of bears by children across the walls. A brass bear frieze recounts the story outside. Bears are on the frescoes, and on key rings, and a statue is above the entrance with the saint.
Monks sit in loose habits and baseball caps in the cafe, drinking espressos and welcoming guests. 200,000 visitors come here every year.

For the last few decades, the monks have looked after bears who are born and bred in captivity. Bruno came here in 2013.


Region: Dambovita
Location: Picior de Munte Village
Bears of the “free zoo”: Menagerie Dambovita
In the town of Picior de Munte in the Carpathian foothills of southern Romania, there is a private zoo, called Menagerie Dambovita. This is an open space, which allows the animals to mix with each other, and the visitors. Stags, a crane, over 30 dogs, cats and wild fowl walk about freely. In cages there are owls and a baboon, and three lions. Visitors can pet the lions and snakes.

Two young brother bears live here in a small, muddy enclosure, during our visit. According to one of the zoo staff, the bears are named Putin and Udrea, after the Russian president and a former Romanian Ministry of Tourism, Elena Udrea, who is now in prison.

They come from Bistrita, where their mother was killed by illegal hunters, say the Menagerie’s staff.
Region: Hunedoara
Location: Straja
Ski resort mascot: Baloo of Transylvania
In the ski resort of Straja in south Transylvania, lives Baloo the bear. Locals have built a cult of personality around the animal. A chair-lift is called ‘Telescaun Baloo’. A ski school is named after Baloo. Wooden totems of bears stand by the roadside.
A rusty cage lies in overgrown vegetation outside a guest house. Stuck to the gnarly wire is a fading poster, saying ‘Do not disturb. I am in hibernation’.

In summer. Baloo is up against a fence, eating baguettes. There is grass inside the enclosure, and a concrete shelter.
The year before last, he celebrated his 23rd birthday. The locals toasted him with champagne and cake.
A Canadian animal welfare group has launched a petition to free the bear. But the resort’s wealthy patron, Emil Parau, will not give up the town’s mascot for any money.

There are also reports of farm selling bears in Fantanale, Arad county, which a decade ago was exposed by a French-Romanian team of undercover journalists.
I think they should be taken out of these cages and should live their remaining years in a proper establishment, in a sanctuary. I think private people should not keep these animals as pets no matter the conditions they can provide them with
Csaba Domokos, project coordinator, large carnivores, Milvus Group
The production of this investigation was supported by a grant from Journalism in Europe IJ4EU and Journalism Fund Europe.