SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) - After a lifetime of brutal treatment, including walking on burning embers, Bulgaria's last three dancing bears will get to rest their paws at a mountain sanctuary, in an apparent end to the centuries-old performance tradition in the Balkans.
Bulgaria is believed to have been the last country in the Balkans where dancing bears still performed, even though the practice was outlawed in 1993, when there were 20 to 30 such bears in the country.
The three bears will join another 20 brown bears on Mount Rila at a 12-hectare sanctuary for former dancing bears about 180 kilometres south of Sofia.
"Our aim is to make their life more bearable in their remaining years," Ioana Tomescu of the Austria-based Four Paws Foundation, which created the sanctuary, told The Associated Press.
Throughout the Balkans, families, mostly among the Roma community, have long earned a living through performing bears. But the techniques to train them led the practice to be banned, and animal rights activists have moved to find the bears new homes.