One of our must sees of Eastern Europe was bears. There was no way we were driving all the way to Romania and not seeing any of the 6000 European Brown Bears that live here. Unfortunately they aren’t the easiest of creatures to find, but there are a couple of options. The least likely of success would be driving around at night and hoping to see a bear crossing the road or even sitting near one of the bins in the valley near Buşteni. Aside from these there’s the option of going with a tour company or giving up and visiting a zoo. On recommendation from the tour guide we met in Viseu de Sus we got in touch with Simona from Absolute Carpathian who told us about the bear watching opportunites near Brasov. The company offer bear tracking trips in the mountains starting from 3 days in length or bear watching from a hide. We opted for the latter partly due to cost and time constraints. With our bear watching booked for that evening, we had a whole day to contain our excitement.
Upon waking up in the middle of a thunderstorm on our campsite we got up slowly and made the most of the internet. We found out that Maia who we met in Morocco was also in Brasov and arranged a catch up at Rasnov castle. En route, we went for a little drive along the Raşnov gorge where we watched some rock climbers battling the elements.
Raşnov castle looks very impressive from the town below even with it’s corny hollywood style sign. Entrance fees are 12 Ron and give you full access to the semi reconstructed castle complete with tourist shops inside. The views from the highest point are fantastic especially once the rain stoped and we got the chance to admire Mount Omul from a distance. It wasn’t the most impressive castle but it was a good meeting point to catch up with a friend before going back into Braşov.
After an afternoon of eating and drinking in cafes we were ready to see some bears. We met Dragos, our guide at a petrol station in Braşov and drove to a top secret location just 5km from the city. Here we switched into a rangers car and drove through the forest to a layby. We got out and waited until the ranger came back. Then we quitely walked up to the bear watching hide as a group. The group was quite large, 17 tourists and 2 guides but luckily we got front row seats. The hide was very similar to a bird watching hide except there was a large clearing in front of it and heaps of vegetables and scattered corn biscuits and peanuts. We settled down to wait for the bears to arrive.
We didn’t have to wait very long before the first glimpse of movement in the trees was spotted about 8m in front of the hide. A young male bear calmly ambled out of the forest and started munching on the biscuits. He seemed totally unphased by the rustling, whispering and clicking shutter noises coming from the hide (maybethe windows were good enough so he didn’t hear anything) and stayed to polish off a big pile of food. It was fantastic to see a wild bear, even in controlled conditions. The bears are fed daily at the hides (there’s 5) but the food offered only makes up a small amount of their diet.
After around 30 minutes of munching, the bears demeanour changed and he became very alert of his surroundings. Within minutes he had left the clearing to the left and we guessed he had smelt or heard some company.
Within 15 minutes Zoë spotted Ted’s next relative, and even larger male bear, probably around 8-10 years old. Unlike the first bear he seemed wary and on edge, really sniffing the place out to see if it was safe. He slowly relaxed but kept to the edges of the forest quite a bit. Suddenly he sprinted back into the forest and we wondered what to expect. But to our surprise he walked back and we spotted a wild boar at the top of the clearing. He didn’t stay much longer after this fright and when he did disappear abruptly into the trees it was almost time for us to leave. We were sad to leave the hide but thrilled that we had seen two beautiful brown bears.
Since two bears wasn’t nearly enough and just in case we didn’t see any bears from the hide, we had plans to visit a bear sanctuary the next day. Libearty bear sanctuary near Zarnesti is the only sanctuary in Romania for bears who have been abused and kept as pets or performing animals. They currently have 90 brown bears in large wooded enclosures and a few other animals. It was set up as recently as 2002 and does a lot of campaigning for laws against keeping or shooting bears. Most of the inhabitants have extremely sad stories or torture, abuse and neglect but now have as much freedom as can be provided.
We were impressed by the quality enclosures but worried that the sanctuary is already at capacity. It definitely begs the question of what to do next, if these bears can’t be released, what will happen long term.
Sadly the Romanian government doesn’t value it’s bears as much as we would, but we hope that there are enough people that appreciate Romania’s wildlife to preserve it for future generations. We would love it if other people could feel the same thrill we felt at seeing bears in the wild.