The lake district in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is not only home to countless native animals, 17 brown bears (as of 6/2019) have also found a new home here in theBärenwald Müritz.
Near Stuer at the southern tip of Lake Plauer, the Bärenwald Müritz project of the animal welfare organisation Vier Pfoten opened in 2006. An area of 16 ha is available here, making it the largest bear sanctuary in Western Europe.
After turning off the main road following the Bärenwald sign, we reached the entrance to the grounds after a few minutes. I have to admit, I hadn’t expected this, everything is modern and very spacious. There is a huge free car park on the opposite side of the road. A requirement traffic light makes it possible to cross the road without any problems.
Then we enter the modern visitor centre. Here you will not only find the BIO-Bistro and the spacious visitor shop with children’s playground, but also the entrance to the park.
We went to the Bärenwald Müritz with a guided tour, which I found very informative. There are well signposted paths between the individual enclosures. I particularly liked the fact that small stations were set up in many places. For example, you can find out how a circus bear feels or see a circus wagon where a bear used to live. There is also a large playground and a bear memory game that is not only fun for children.
How do the brown bears live in the Bärenwald Müritz?
Bears are actually solitary animals and need a lot of space, as they spend almost 16 hours a day foraging.
Bears that come from captivity can no longer be released into the wild. They are dependent on humans and would not survive on their own. They often show behavioural problems.
The bear forest has tried to accommodate small “living communities” in the individual enclosures. The enclosures are about 2.5 hectares in size, wooded and have a bathing area and sufficient retreats for the animals. The bear can roam around, dig dens and still be provided with all the necessities of life.
The animals are cared for by animal keepers and examined by a vet at least four times a year. Depending on the state of health, it is quite possible that the bear may also need medication, which it then receives with the food.
Each bear needs 13-17 kg of food per day, which has to be cut in the feeding kitchen. Many bears have poor dentition and cannot chop food on their own.
The food consists of 20% meat and 80% fruit/vegetables. The food is distributed throughout the enclosure so that the bears can forage as they would in the wild.
Which bears come to the Bärenwald Müritz?
There are currently 17 bears living in the bear forest. They all come from inappropriate husbandry by a wide variety of keepers in Europe.
For example, there is Balou the bear, who has been living in the park in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania since 2012. Balou was born in the Hellenthal game reserve. There he lived with his father in an enclosure without green spaces, without retreat possibilities under catastrophic living conditions. Balou is 2.20m tall and weighs almost 300kg. He is the biggest bear in the enclosure and very playful. We saw Balou at his enclosure, where he was clearly comfortable.
Mary und Clara
Another very wooded enclosure is home to bears Mary and Clara – a mother/daughter pair. Mary was born in 1986 and moved with her daughters Clara and Sonja from Mönchengladbach Zoo to the north of Germany. Sonja unfortunately died a short time later from a liver tumour.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly whether we saw Mary or Clara (born in 1992). In any case, one of the female bears was roaming through the undergrowth looking for the food distributed there. She was not disturbed by us visitors and continued to search eagerly.
The brown bear Dushi has only been a resident in the Bärenwald Müritz since April 2019. She comes from an Albanian Safari Park Zoo. There she lived in a small cage with no outdoor space. During this time she lost her left front leg (how and why is not known). After a “recovery” stay in the Tirana zoo, Dushi travelled for several days by truck through Europe until she reached the bear forest with her keepers.
She is still settling in. She was slow to leave her box, green meadows and trees were completely unknown to her. Now, she is gradually exploring her transitional home and is expected to live in an enclosure with other brown bears once she has settled in.
We only saw Dushi from a distance and she still showed the stereotypical behaviour of many captive animals. Although she had a large open space at her disposal, she stood facing a fence and swayed back and forth. But, we were assured, in time Dushi, like her conspecifics, will shed this behaviour and roam the forest like a free-living bear.
Otto und Mascha
Yes, and then we discovered the bears Otto and Mascha. The bears are not related, but share the same fate. They were living together in private care in East Germany in a 150m² enclosure behind bars and on a concrete floor. Fortunately, the owner realised that the bears would be better off in the bear forest and relinquished them. Now they live in an enclosure with bathing facilities and dense forest. If you’re lucky, one of them will brush past the fence or you’ll spot a bear sleeping in the undergrowth. Or you might spot a sleeping bear lying under a tree not far from the fence.
There are many more bears to discover in the bear forest. But of course they don’t appear on command to greet the visitor. You have to take your time, sit down quietly and wait for a bear to appear. The animals do not live here for the pleasure of the visitors, they are kept as species-appropriate as possible and this includes offering many retreat possibilities.
We were very enthusiastic about the project of the animal welfare organisation Vier Pfoten. A really great institution that tries with a lot of commitment to give the animals a dignified retirement.
Am Bärenwald 1,
15.3. – 31.10.
daily 9-18 Uhr
1.11. – 14.3.
daily 10-16 Uhr
15.3. – 31.10.
Discounts are offered.
1.11. – 14.3.
Discounts are offered.
Disclosure: The visit to the Bärenwald Müritz took place as part of a blogger trip to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The tour was free of charge for us, thank you very much! The article was written independently of our visit and reflects only our own impressions.