This is my sister’s recent trip to try to save a bear’s life in Serbia in her own words.
As some of you may know, I recently got a serendipitous email asking for help with an ill bear in Serbia called Micko. He had had a bloody discharge from his nose for a few months and had stopped eating, and had now started having seizures, not a good history.
The Worldwide Veterinary Service were looking for volunteers who had experience of working in a zoo (check), experience of working with bears (check) and were available immediately (check).
It’s not often you read an ad like that and think, ‘Hey! They’re describing me! ‘ But it seemed they were and as I was just about to be off work on holiday I thought I’d get in touch and see if they needed a hand.
After many frantic emails and phone calls, I found myself two weeks ago on Friday booked on a very early bus to Heathrow the following Monday morning, to start my trip to Serbia.
During the many emailed discussions I managed to get Heather Bacon, the vet I worked with in China with the Moon Bears in touch with the WVS and we were all set. She was flying in from China and I was, well, busing in from Totness, not quite as glamorous, I know.
The best laid plans to, for once, have a leisurely trip to Scotland were abandoned, and James was his usual understanding and supportive self.
We met at Heathrow along with the wonderful Tess, one of the stalwarts of the WVS office and together, we started our mini adventure.
We arrived in Belgrade and were taken immediately (well an hour and a half away) to Banostor where ARKA, the charity we were there to help, had their sanctuary. The sanctuary consisted of a set of enclosures at Pavel and Branka’s (our hosts) home. They had been given care of these rescued bears mainly, but not soley, from the dancing trade by the government and had been promised a wonderful sanctuary for the bears which had never materialised.
For 11 long years these amazing people have struggled to house and feed these 6 bears from their own meagre earnings and have done a wonderful job with the resources they have.
On arrival, we immediately went up to have a look at Micko, who we could make out in the dimming light, lying semi-comatose in his back den, wet and emaciated, with a swollen muzzle and one paw across his face, the look of agony written clearly across his face.
We darted him 3 times with a powerful pain killer and only on the last dart did he show any signs of flinching. We left him over night at least safe in the knowledge that his pain would be lessened until we could do something more to help.
The following morning we returned to the sanctuary and anaethetised Micko to examine him. We quickly drew some blood and put him on i/v fluids and then with the help of the local vets who provided the mobile x-ray machine WVS had hired, took some x-rays of his nose. Sadly, as we had suspected, he was diagnosed with a massive nasal tumour which was growing backwards and putting pressure on his brain, causing the seizures.
With heavy hearts we told Pavel and Branka that there was nothing we could do for poor Micko and after a long anaesthetic, gently put him to sleep.
We visually examined all of the other bears that day and decided we could do something positive while we were there and help one of the other bears the next day.
All of the bears there need a health check and dental work as all have smashed and rotting teeth, a throwback to their dancing days, where teeth are dangerous to the gypsies who own them so are smashed out.
One bear in particular stood out as being the first in line for help, and that was Kasandra. She had the worst teeth that Heather has ever seen (and she has vast experience of bad bear mouths!) and had a completely shredded top lip, from many attempts to place a ring in it. Th gypsies normal pierce the bears lip with a ring and use this to put a rope or chain through and then drag the bear around by this.
However in poor Kasandra’s case, each time they put a new ring in, it ripped out through the bottom of her lip so they put in another and another until there was no lip left to rip. Her face looked as if it had been put through a shredder.
We anaethetised her on the second day and Heather removed 20 rotting teeth from her mouth. She then managed to reconstruct her top lip with some ace suturing and after a mammoth 5 or so hours of anaesthesia, she was once more a beautiful bear.
We sadly had to leave the next morning so could do no more on this trip, but Tess made a promise to Pavel and Branka on behalf of the WVS that another team would go back and check the other bears. Heather is hoping to go out again to do this but sadly I won’t be able to join them in the summer as I am committed to going out to South Africa once more to run the cheetah cub project.
It’s a hard life!
If anyone is interested in supporting the fantastic work that the WVS does, supporting charities all over the world by sending qualified volunteers where they are needed, or specifically ARKA, please look at the WVS website http://www.wvs.org.uk where you can make donations or become a member.
People have asked why vets in Serbia didn’t help but basically, from what we could make out, no-one cares.
Pavel and Branka had consulted some vets before who had been unconcerned by Micko’s clinical signs and when they anaethetised him, failed to even get a blood sample, but cleared Pavel and Branka out financially for the privilege. If you’re interested in more back story go the the WVS page and search under Micko.