Avatar photo

Raluca Bragarea

Head of Communications, Bucharest

Part of UK in Romania

5th June 2014 Bucharest, Romania

Great Britons in Romania: Victor Watkins, Wildlife Advisor, World Society for the Prevention of Animals

Our new post in the ‘Great Britons in Romania’ is authored by Peter Thomas,  the head of the political section in the embassy. The post is dedicated to a Briton who has made an important contribution to conserving Romania’s wildlife heritage.

In May,  I had the pleasure of representing the British Embassy at the official launching of the third enclosure of the Libearty sanctuary at Zarnesti. It was there that I had the pleasure of meeting Victor Watkins and hearing his incredible story.

Victor Watkins has been helping bears and other animals (including whales, orangutans and elephants) subjected to cruelty and inhumane conditions for the past 35 years. In 1993 he helped create the first bear sanctuary in Northern Greece to stop the dancing bear trade. He has been involved in similar ventures in India, Pakistan and Turkey.

He first visited Romania in 2005 at the request of Cristina Lapis, the founder of Asociatia Milioane de Prieteni (AMP), to survey the number of caged bears and look at options for building a sanctuary. They identified 50, so the work to find a suitable location which requires primary forest, lots of water, a good access road and an electricity supply, began. Victor said the response from local mayors was magnificent with several offering land. In the end they plumped for a 69-hectare plot of oak forest overlooking Zarnesti.

The land was given to AMP and WSPA on a 49-year lease. The work began, with WSPA providing an initial funding of €2m and AMP providing the daily management and oversight. Eight years on the sanctuary is a joy to visit. It is the largest bear sanctuary in the world by area, and home to 78 bears. Most of them are European Brown bears from Romania but they also have residents from Albania, Georgia and Texas.

The bears are living out their retirement in blissful conditions with plenty of space, forest and watering holes. They eat over a 1000kgs of food each day including fruit, vegetables, chicken and sausages, much of it donated by local supermarkets. Visitors get a treat too: the bears are curious and will sometimes match you stride for stride as you wander along the enclosures.

The newly installed canopy bridge adds an extra dimension. Most importantly is the new education and visitors centre where one can learn about animal welfare and protection.

Victor is proud of his involvement in Libearty. But he is quick to praise the energy and dynamism of Cristina and Roger Lapis, the engines behind its success. And he also reserves significant applause for the response from the Romanian public, officials and the media which has been “magnificent”.

The British connection does not end there. In recognition of his love for Transylvania one of the European Brown’s has been named “Prince Charles”. Whilst this is definitely a good news story and highlight of Romanian-British cooperation the work is not complete as there are still 10 bears living in cages in Romania who need rescuing. And they intend to rescue them.

If you want to get involved, visit and support the bears visit: www.ampbears.ro

To view WSPAs wider work on protecting bears and other animals please visit www.wspa.org.uk/wspaswork/bears/sanctuaries/

And finally to read Victor’ blog: http://bearsanctuary.com/libearty-bear-sanctuary



About Raluca Bragarea

I joined the British Embassy in 2004, and have ever since enjoyed one of the most diverse and challenging jobs as a professional communicator, from partnering up with MTV Romania…

I joined the British Embassy in 2004, and have ever since
enjoyed one of the most diverse and challenging jobs as a professional
communicator, from partnering up with MTV Romania to promote the UN
anti-poverty agenda to handling Prince Charles’ press conference on a
hill top in picturesque Transylvania. One of the highlights working for
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been the introduction of an
internship scheme in the Embassy; we bring along students from various
backgrounds to help us deliver our objectives while they get a unique
opportunity to learn hands-on about diplomacy.
I am a former TV journalist, specialising in foreign affairs, and a
Fulbright scholar. I hold a Master of Arts in Information and
Communication Studies with California State University at Chico.
I am a major cafe latte fan and like to collect hand-painted icons.
My other hobbies include travelling and watching movies with friends,
particularly Quentin Tarantino’s. The latest memorable film I watched
was District 9, a superb science fiction with a social twist – anybody
seen it?

Follow Raluca