Albania’s last “restaurant bear” rescued, bound for a new life at sanctuary in Austria

For two decades, Mark lived in a cage listlessly entertaining guests at an Albanian restaurant.

He was among dozens of bears held captive by the country’s entertainment and restaurants sectors; used as furry lures to attract patrons to eateries, hotels and other public places.

But this week, the international charity FOUR PAWS rescued Mark from his confines at Sofra e Ariut — Bear’s Table — restaurant in Tirana.

Mark arrived at the restaurant as a cub. He was born around 1998. Photo: FOUR PAWS/Facebook

“The cage he had been kept in for over 20 years was never built for him to leave again,” FOUR PAWS announced on social media Wednesday. “There was no door where he would fit through, but this didn’t stop us – we cut the cage open.”

The bars of the cage needed to be cut to set Mark free. Photo: FOUR PAWS/Facebook

Veterinarian Julia Bohner assessed Mark in order to be sure he could be safely transported to BÄRENWALD Arbesbach (BEAR SANCTUARY Arbesbach) in Austria.

“After her check this is what we know,” the charity explained after the vet check. “Mark is pretty obese and his teeth are broken but he is fit for the transport!”

Mark was sedated for his medical assessment and transport. Photo: FOUR PAWS/Facebook

It took eight people to carry the big bear after dining for years on “inappropriate food,” which left him obese — weighing more than 200 kilograms.

The restaurant owner was even on hand to say goodbye and safe travels, FOUR PAWS said.

The sanctuary is happily placing him at its BEAR FOREST, where it said he can “finally enjoy the ‘bearly’ beautiful life he deserves.”

“Restaurant bears still exist mainly in (south)eastern European countries such as Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also in Ukraine and Russia,” the sanctuary explained. “Also in Austria, bears were kept as tourist attractions until the late 90s, among other things in front of ski lifts.”

“With Mark’s rescue, we end a dark chapter in Albania’s history and set an important milestone for better bear welfare!” he added.

During his long journey, Mark is enjoying grapes and, according to the charity groups, is a very good-natured bear who is now in the best hands.

And so, Mark’s long journey began.

After 44 hours of travel through seven different countries, Mark is now home.

“Although he was a little shy in the beginning, he has now at last set foot into his new enclosure – and a species-appropriate bear life!” FOUR PAWS explained.

Mark is now home-sweet-home in Austria. Photo: FOUR PAWS/Facebook

The organization called it a “great milestone.”

“With Mark’s rescue we ended the cruel practice of keeping him next to a restaurant to attract and entertain visitors,” FOUR PAWS President and global CEO Josef Pfabigan, said in a statement. “We are now one step closer to a world where people treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding.”

Freedom for Mark. Albania’s last restaurant bear. Photo: FOUR PAWS/Facebook

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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