Three rescued bears returned home in Bulgaria

Posted on 15 May 2024
After rehabilitation in a specialized center in Greece the three bears Nikola, Misho and Aneta are back in the wild.

WWF-Bulgaria, together with the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MoEW), the FOUR PAWS Foundation and Arcturus (ARCTUROS) - Greece, gave three orphaned bears a chance for a new life. In several joint operations, the cubs Nikola, Misho and Aneta were rescued, cared for in specialized centers in Bulgaria and abroad and, eventually, returned to the wild. Experts agree that at this age they are extremely vulnerable and without adequate human intervention they were unable to survive.

"When a bear cub is left without a mother, it has no one to learn from the skills it needs to survive. There is no way it can learn how to find food, how to defend itself, how to hide and how to distinguish dangers. Staying in a rehabilitation center to learn how to be a real bear in a peaceful environment, unthreatened by humans, is the only chance for its survival. So, in addition to preserving the cubs lifes, we are also working to prevent any future conflicts with potential damage," says conservation biologist Aleksandar Dutsov, a senior expert in the Wildlife Programme and member of WWF-Bulgaria's Bear Rescue Team.

Photo credits: Veliko Balabanov/WWF-Bulgaria

The three bears were released back into the wild at a carefully selected site, a brown bear habitat, within Rila National Park. They were transported there, placed in special cages. Their return to the wild comes after the Arcturus Rehabilitation Centre assessed that the bears had reached the appropriate age and weight to ensure that they would have no natural enemies.

The release of the bears took place under extreme safety precautions, as even a thirty kilogram bear is capable of severely wounding an adult male, experts warn. The animals have been tagged with GPS collars that allow their continuous tracking and thus will ensure the safety of both humans and animals. The tracking is being carried out in real time and experts from WWF-Bulgaria and Rila National Park are involved.  

The story of the three bears began last year...

In July, the WWF-Bulgaria Rescue Squad, with the help of foresters and Vitosha Nature Park staff, carried out an operation to capture a five-month-old bear cub who had lost his mother. The bear, named Nikola, had found refuge in a tree in the yard of a property in the village of Kostenets. After careful planning of the operation, he was brought down to the ground in the arms of one of the Squad members, who climbed the tree to catch the bear. The animal was exhausted by hunger and heat.

In October, within a few weeks time, the Squad rescued two orphaned bears that had been attracted by food in an animal feeder near the village of Krushovitsa in Ellin Pelin. The local hunting organization and the local administration alerted the Regional Inspectorate for Environment and Water (RIEW) - Sofia, where they turned to WWF for assistance. The members of the Squad responded instantly by setting specialized traps for catching the animal, as well as photo traps for permanent monitoring. This gave little Annette and her brother Misho another chance at life. They spent some time in the BEAR PARK Belitsa, managed jointly by FOUR PAWS and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, the only protected place in Bulgaria that provides a chance for a new life for bears rescued from captivity in poor conditions . They were then transported to the specialized rehabilitation center "Arcturus" in Greece.

"Our care does not end with the release of the bears. We are ready for regular visits to the field, for setting up and checking photo traps for observation, and for recapturing them if necessary. The bears wear special GPS collars which we can use to track their movements. But we will only intervene as a last resort - if their health is in doubt or if there are signs of problematic behaviour," adds Dutsov.

WWF follows a science-based programme that aims to prevent potential conflicts between bears and humans. The WWF Rescue Squad, which gathers experienced experts, plays a leading role here, responding to citizen reports, installing electric fences around affected properties and advising local people on how to protect themselves from unwanted bear encounters. WWF welcomes anyone who would like to help the Squad in its mission. For more information, visit

Photo credits: Veliko Balabanov/ WWF-Bulgaria

Photo credits: Hristo Vladev/ FOUR PAWS

This is the third bear release operation to take place in Bulgaria since 2019, and the second involving WWF.  Huba, Vihar and Goran, who were found alone in the Rhodope Mountains and spent nearly a year recovering at the Arcturus centre, were released back into the wild in the spring of 2022 in a joint action by WWF-Bulgaria, the Ministry of Environment and Water and FOUR PAWS. 

For the successful implementation of the three actions in 2019, 2022 and 2024 contributed experts from the the Ministry of Environment and Water - the National Parks "Central Balkan" and "Rila", the Regional Inspectorates of Environmental Protection - Smolyan and Sofia, specialists from the Vitosha Nature Park, the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the “BALKANI Wildlife Society”.

For more information, please contact:
Aleksandar Dutsov, Senior expert Wildlife Programme, WWF-Bulgaria 


Photo credits: Veliko Balabanov/ WWF-Bulgaria, Hristo Vladev/ FOUR PAWS