For years, Stefan had one terrible job: “Dancing bear.”
Then, he was rescued and one of the first bears brought to the Dancing Bears Park in Bulgaria, a sanctuary for neglected and abused brown bears once used for entertainment purposes across that country and elsewhere in the region.
That was back in 2000 when the facility was founded by Four Paws, an international animal welfare group, and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation.
But in recent days, the 34-year-old bear’s health was failing.
“Stefan’s caretakers had noticed that he wasn’t as active as usual,” Four Paws explained in a Facebook post Tuesday. “His mobility was evidently getting worse day by day. He was showing signs of pain, and he was barely eating his meals.”
Veterinarians did an ultrasound, diagnostic imaging and blood work. They found liver tumours and severe anemia.
“The poor prognosis, lack of treatment options, and the fact that this condition was painful and impairing his welfare led to the decision to let him go,” Four Paws explained.
Stefan is being fondly remembered as one of the friendliest bears at the Belitsa sanctuary.
“Despite the fact that he was bigger than the other bears in his enclosure and could have dominated the other bears, quite to the contrary, Stefan was the least ‘bossy’ male bear at the sanctuary,” Four Paws added.
Stefan had quite an enviable life at the park — living peacefully in an enclosure with two female bears. He was particularly bonded to Svetla.
“Stefan is the friendliest and calmest bear of the sanctuary. He gets along with all the other bears, and he is the least likely to ever find himself in the middle of a conflict,” the sanctuary recalled.
He was also known by caretakers as “the master” at building dens.
“Each autumn he makes a few of them, usually two to three, before hibernation. Often he wakes up during February and renovate them, but always gets back to sleep,” the park once explained.
Stefan may have been among the first Bulgarian dancing bears to be saved from a life in servitude. But the last group didn’t arrive at the sanctuary until 2007 and another group arrived from Serbia in 2009.
The sanctuary is home to about 20 rescued brown bears.
Stefan helped paved the way.
“We will miss you,” the Brigitte Bardot Foundation noted, adding “he he was able to enjoy a peaceful and happy life for 20 years.”