The Pristina Bear Sanctuary was definitely a highlight for us while we were visiting Kosovo. I hadn’t heard of it (or anything like it) until we were planning our trip through the Balkans. But once I learned about it, I knew we had to go!
Where is the Bear Sanctuary
The Bear Sanctuary is located just outside of Pristina, about 20 km away and close to the village of Mramor. There is public transportation but a car or taxi is your best bet (if you’re taking a taxi, it will need to call one for the trip back, or ask the taxi to wait for you).
Even though it’s been open since 2013, many people still are not aware of it so you may have to give specific directions to the taxi.
For many years, there was no law against keeping bears as pets. Many bears were kept in cages outside restaurants, so they became known as “ restaurant bears ”.
The idea was that these brown bears would attract customers to the restaurant. The bears were not treated well; they were kept in small cages with no protection from the weather and fed poor diets – in some instances only beer and stale bread – not a normal diet for a bear!
In 2010, it became illegal for bears to be kept privately and so the Bear Sanctuary came into existence to provide a home for some of these bears.
Prishtina Bear Sanctuary
The Bear Sanctuary is run by an organization called Four Paws, which is a global animal welfare organization based in Austria that rescues animals in need.
In 2013, Kassandra was the first bear to be rescued and brought to the Bear Sanctuary.
Since then, many more bears have been rescued and brought to the Sanctuary – in early 2019 a cub was rescued and there are currently 20 bears at the Sanctuary (Nov 2019).
Many of the bears rescued are from Kosovo, although there are some that were born in Albania. They live in large enclosures that resemble their natural habitat – and by large, I mean large!
Wandering through the park, you may or may not be able to see the bears as they wander throughout their enclosure, through trees, bushes, and even small caves.
The park is open all year round, with longer hours in the summer (April to October) and closing at 4pm in the winter.
Arriving at the park, you enter through a main building, which has a small gift shop, a restaurant and a small play area for kids. From there, you’re on your own to explore the park!
We spent well over 2 hours wandering the main trail surrounding the enclosures and learning about the bears.
Each enclosure has signs posted with the names and details of each bear. Some enclosures have a few bears living together and it was interesting to read the bear’s details and figure which bear was which!
Many of the bears were quite friendly, well maybe not friendly, but curious. Some would come down from the hills and walk towards us at the fence. Others would just sit and watch us, although a few seemed like they could care less and just walked away!
The bears were magnificent to see close up and it’s hard to imagine how they could survive in such small cages.
At one point as you walk along the path, there’s a sample (empty!) cage that you can enter and see how tiny they are. Can you imagine living in that for years?
For More Information
Hours: April to October 10am – 7pm, November to March 10am – 4pm
Address: Mramor, Badovci Lake, Prishtina 10000
Phone: +383 44 609 044
How to Get to the Bear Sanctuary:
There is a bus running towards the Bear Sanctuary from the center of Pristina, but there is not a specific bus stop – just ask to be let off at the gas station nearest Mramor. From there, it’s a 2.5km walk along the edge of the lake to the Sanctuary.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Pristina. It’s only 20km, but will cost about 25euro one way. You can ask the taxi to wait, or call another taxi when you’re ready to leave.
We took a taxi there, but started to walk to the bus on the way back and ended up getting ride to Pristina from some people who worked at the Sanctuary.
If you are planning a visit to Kosovo, be sure to read What to do in Kosovo – A Week in Pristina and Prizren. You can also check out our Destinations section for ideas and kid-friendly places to travel to.