Animals in Captivity


Since it was founded, ARCTUROS has concentrated its efforts in addressing the issue of illegal captivity of wild animals. Their interventions have managed to eliminate the phenomenon of the “dancing” bear in Greece, but they are still working to eradicate the illegal captivity of bears in the wider Balkan region. Also, through the programme LIFE “WOLF”, wolves have been liberated from individuals and zoos in Florina and Athens.

The phenomenon of “dancing” bears was common in Greece during the last century. The bears were caught as cubs, and after killing their mother, who would not otherwise allow anyone to approach her cubs, they were subjected to a brutal process of "training." The nose of the animal was pierced to fix a grommet (nose ring) allowing the animal to be tethered and punished. The bear’s canine teeth would also be broken with metal tools. The animal would then be forced to tread on hot metal plates, to the sound of the tambourine. In attempting to avoid burning its feet, the bear stood up on its hind legs. The training continued for some time until simply the sound of the tambourine was enough to cause the bear to rise on its hind legs and “dance” - a type of conditioned reflex. To achieve the desired behaviour, the animal was poorly fed, and only rewarded in front of an audience with leftovers.

Wolves in private ownership have been used to increase the so-called hybridization of wolves with dogs in two ways: a. deliberate direct cross breeding following a decision by the owners having the uninformed idea that it will result in a “wolfdog“; b. the abandonment of domesticated wolves or hybrids following inevitable issues such as attacks on humans and livestock leads to cross breeding with local dogs - the wolves or hybrids have been reared to be dependent entirely on humans, so they end up remaining close to residential areas, causing damage and mating with stray dogs.

Currently 12 former captives bears are looked after at the Bear Refuge, which was created under the programme LIFE ‘ARKTOS’. It is located in the community of Nymfaio Florina, in a natural beech forest, and the surrounding area is the typical habitat of the bear. Similarly, nine formerly captivated wolves are looked after at the Wolf Sanctuary, in a specially fenced in natural oak forest area of 70 acres, where they will live the rest of their lives.

Although ARCTURUS has made a great effort to provide a solution to the issue of wolf captivity, unfortunately there is still illegal private possession of wild animals, and wolves (and bears) are still being kept in zoos in inappropriate spaces. If you know of someone holding a captive wolf or bear illegally, you can help by sending an email to or phoning us: +30 23860 41500.