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Austrian charity helps Serbian baby bears get new home

A charity project caring for orphaned bear cubs in Romania became 'parents' to three cute new fur balls this week - Tara, History and Sleepy.

The bears, all about five-months-old, were discovered last month by police in the village of Culije in southern Serbia near to the border to Montenegro. It is not clear why the mother bear abandoned her cubs.

They asked the Austrian charity Four Paws for help as there is no specialised bear cub station in Serbia. They arranged for the cubs to be transported across the border to the orphaned bear station in the county of Harghita in Romania.

Romania has thousands of wild bears after the country's former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu encouraged their breeding in local woodlands because he was a keen hunter. The country's experience in dealing with the bears has now made it the perfect location for taking in orphaned bears at the specialist centre designed to minimise human contact  - and make it possible for their eventual successful reintegration into the wild.

Carsten Hertwig, who is the bear expert at the charity, said: "Tara, History and Sleepy can be prepared optimally for their later life in the wild. We are confident that they will develop well and really be able to be released to the outdoors."

Unlike the other 26 bear cubs in the sanctuary this will not take place in Romania, as the three new arrivals will remain citizens of Serbia and will be returned to the wild there after around two years.

None of the three had been eating properly while awaiting their transport to the Romanian sanctuary, but have quickly come out of their shells and are now munching enthusiastically and playing with the other bear cubs.

Hertwig said: "They were well looked after in Serbia but it was too much human contact, so it was important to get them here as soon as possible."

To minimise the contact of the bear orphans to humans as much as possible Harghita is situated in a very isolated location. The three new arrivals were flown in from the airport of Arad in northern Romania and then driven directly to the bear sanctuary, which first came into life in 2004.

The timing of release into the wild depends on the development of the individual animal and typically occurs around the age of two years. The young bears are fitted with a transmitter and freed into the wooded hills, where they can be further monitored.

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