The world is still reeling from the plight of a white bear confined in a tiny cage for the entertainment of Chinese shoppers when news of another unfortunate bear, this one trapped in Albania, made headlines.
The 5-year-old brown bear, Tomi, was discovered by a Daily Mail reporter, living in squalid conditions in a tiny cage next to a rundown restaurant amidst the mountainous ranges 40 miles away from Tirana, Albania.
The bear is an unwilling participant of the restaurant owner’s (who has refused to divulge his name) marketing ploy to attract tourists to his business — and gets rewarded for the influx of customers by hardly getting any food and an occasional beer from his owner.
Tomi has to depend on the kindness of his gawkers to throw him an unhealthy diet of cupcakes, sweets and crisps. The ordeal is doubly painful for him as just a few feet away, within smelling range, an aquarium filled with water and trout is kept for restaurant diners.
The extended captivity has resulted in disturbing behavior for the bear, which often bites itself and shakes his head violently while prowling restlessly in his cage. He also grabs the cage’s bars in his jaws, probably in an attempt to break free. His owner blames the painful behavior on “boredom,” but shows no remorse for 20-by-10-foot cage in which the bear is kept nor for the garbage littering it.
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“I have had Tomi for two years. I paid a vet from Tirana to shoot him with a tranquilizer. Business has gone up since,” Tomi’s owner proudly boasts.
“The bear shows a very strong behavioral disorder which is clear evidence of serious animal welfare deficits,” zoologist Thomas Pietsch, of the London-based campaign group FOUR PAWS, said. “This self-harming behavior is clearly compulsive and is a result of the extremely monotonous and confined living conditions.”
The Albanian brown bear is a critically endangered species and only about 250 brown bears remain in the wild. Tomi is one out of the estimated 80 bears that live in impossibly cramped cells throughout the country. Animal welfare groups have repeatedly urged the government to free the animals but to no avail.
People Advocating for Caged Bears, an animal rights organization, attended a workshop on the issue of the “Illegal Capturing and Keeping of Brown Bears in Albania” and found out the problem persists because “people are not concerned with conservation, welfare or engaging in education with regards to wildlife and the environment.”
A petition is also underway to get Tomi out of his cruel captivity.