Romania rescues two brown bears from decrepit zoo

ZARNESTI, Romania Mon Oct 29, 2012 7:15am EDT

1 of 2. A brown bear looks out from its enclosure at Onesti Zoo, 266km (165 miles) northeast of Bucharest, October 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

ZARNESTI, Romania (Reuters) - Two brown bears in Romania have been rescued from a zoo where conditions did not meet European Union animal safety standards and have been transferred to a sanctuary where they were released on Saturday, wildlife experts said.

The two male bears were removed from the decrepit Onesti zoo in eastern Romania and driven to Zarnesti, 150 kilometres (93 miles) away, which houses the country's first bear sanctuary in a forest.

"These bears used to live in small concrete enclosures ... They will be released soon in this beautiful forest area (after quarantine). That's a huge difference," said Victor Watkins, a wildlife advisor at the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

Sixty seven bears are now housed in the sanctuary. Many of them were rescued from ramshackle zoos or from cages at roadside inns and restaurants where they were used to entertain guests.

Up to 7,000 bears live in Romania's largely unspoilt mountains. Several people, including foreign tourists, have been killed or injured by bears in recent years and experts have warned that their habitat is under threat from construction.

A poacher was killed as recently as last month after a bear attacked him after escaping from his trap.

The law limits the number of bears that can be killed by hunters to under 350 a year. Officials say some hunting is necessary to control their numbers. (Reporting by Sinisa Dragin; Writing by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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