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Saturday, October 24, 1998 Published at 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK

World: Europe

All the bear necessities

Dancing bears in Bulgaria are still used for entertainment

By the BBC's correspondent in Budapest, Nick Thorpe

A new bear sanctuary has been opened in Hungary which will be home for 20 bears living, until now, in harsh circumstances.

Most of them are veterans of the international film industry, and apart from occasional excursions on film sets, they have had to spend their lives cramped in small cages with hardly enough room to turn around.

The new bear sanctuary, the first in the country and one of very few in Europe, is a three hectare site near the village of Veresegyház, just north of the capital, Budapest.

There are purpose-built earth-covered dens which resemble caves, pools for the bears to swim in and the natural tree and scrub vegetation of the area.

The sanctuary was built by the British-based charity, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Their bear programme has, in the last six years, managed to end the use of dancing bears in the streets of Turkey and has reduced the practice of bear baiting in Pakistan.

But dancing bears are still commonplace in Bulgaria and Serbia, while in Romania rich West Europeans have replaced the groups of high-ranking communist officials who used to hunt them in the Carpathian Mountains.

Several species have already been driven close to extinction in Europe by hunters, and those animals that are caught alive are frequently kept under extremely cruel conditions, especially in eastern Europe.

Another problem comes from zoos which breed the cubs as tourist attractions, then have insufficient space to keep them when they grow up.

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