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Part 3: Free to roam From Serbia to the Swiss Alps: a bear's adventure

Napa the rescued circus bear has taken his first steps outdoors in his Alpine enclosure at the Arosa Bear Sanctuaryexternal link in Graubünden, which opens to the public on August 4. This video records his early moments of feeling the grass beneath his paws. He's one of five rescue bears that will be housed there.

The 12-year-old is part brown bear and part polar bear. He was born in a zoo in 2006 and it's thought that he was sent to the Corona circus in Srbobran, Serbia, when he was young, and made to perform there. In 2009, circuses in Serbia were banned from using animals. Kristijan Ovari, the curator of Serbia's Zoo Palicexternal link ​​​​​​​first spotted Napa at the circus in 2012 and started making plans to free him and bring him to the zoo. The rescue operation was carried out by the Four Pawsexternal link animal protection foundation and the Serbian ministry of the environment in December 2016.

From the zoo to the Alp

Zoo Palic was just a temporary home for Napa. Four Paws helped to set up the Arosa Bear Sanctuary and wanted Napa to become the resident. On July 3, the foundation orchestrated the transfer of the 350 kilo animal. The journey to Switzerland took 28 hours and presented quite a challenge. Arosaexternal link, at 1,800 metres above sea level, has been a famous Alpine health resort since 1877, and to get there, Napa had to be taken up in a cable car. 

Napa the bear goes to his new home in a cable car
(Stefan Bohrer)

Since then, he has been acclimatising, building a nest, playing, taking showers and enjoying a diet of vegetables, fruit and meat. Pascal Jenny, president of the Arosa Bears Foundation that runs the sanctuary, says, "He quickly established a bond with his keepers and began to abandon stereotypical behaviours." Bears that have been confined are deprived of natural stimulus and are prone to develop stereotypy, a term for a group of behaviours that are repetitive with no obvious function, like pacing. 

Curious bear

Jenny says Napa is quite a character, "He is curious and attentive, responds quickly and is interested in food. He enjoys being showered and likes to demonstrate his size and strength". In the zoo in Serbia the bear was fed but in Arosa he has to search for hidden treats, as part of efforts to rekindle his natural instincts. Napa's teeth are in poor condition, and he will have to undergo an operation in September. But until then, he has time to explore all the nooks and crannies of his 2.8 hectare enclosure, the size of three football pitches.

Napa in the green, looking towards camera
(Stefan Bohrer)

More bears rescued by Four Paws are due to start arriving in Arosa from spring 2019. The annual running fees of the sanctuary are estimated at around CHF600,000, to be covered by entrance fees and the sale of merchandise, sponsoring and donations. About 20-30,000 visitors are expected during the summer seasons. 

(swissinfo.ch/Four Paws) 

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