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Era of Dancing Bears is Over


I've always liked them

<!--===========CAPTION==========-->The bears only "danced" because they were in pain.

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) -- Charlie on Monday was free to be an average bear after 12 years of ursine hell.
His nose ring and chains removed, the 280 kilogram (617-pound) brown bear spent a full day on four paws -- nothing unusual for most of his kind, but paradise for an animal forced to "dance" from morning till dawn, come rain or shine.

Instead of the log he was chained to at nights, Charlie's new home is a 12-hectare (30-acre) mountainous park located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of Sofia.

The park -- the largest of its kind in Europe -- was set up by the Four Paws Foundation with the financial help of the animal protection fund run by former French actress Brigitte Bardot.

Charlie joined 13 other former dancing bears earlier freed of their chains and shipped to their sanctuary in the Rila Mountain in southern Bulgaria.

Earlier this year, animal rights activists -- moved by the plight of the brown bears that were forced to dance on the streets to amuse tourists and provide their Gypsy owners with an income -- launched a campaign to free the furry giants.

Because the practice is illegal, the bears could have simply been taken from their owners. Instead, the Four Paws Foundation decided to pay for the animals' freedom through small grants to help the Gypsy families set up new businesses.

"I sold him for some 5,600 leva (US$3,500 euro2,850)," Charlie's owner, Georgi Georgiev, told reporters, after he handed the bear's chain to Dr. Amir Khalil, president of the Bulgarian chapter of the Austria-based foundation.

In return, Georgiev -- who inherited his first animal from his father -- signed a declaration never to force a bear to dance again.

The deal done, the mighty animal was put to sleep and its nose ring and chains were removed. Charlie -- accustomed to a daily "treat" of a beer or two, in his former owner's words -- went to sleep only after the third dose of the special drug.

"Charlie ... will no longer be a slave," the project's spokesman, Krasimir Nikolov said.

The animals' dancing was the result of a cruel technique -- the bear owner pulled a ring attached to the bear's nose, causing it such pain that it shuffled around in a dance-like manner.

Leashed on a 2-meter (yard) long chain all the time, Charlie "was fed only a loaf of bread or two a day," Nikolov said.

The foundation is collecting donations so 10 other dancing bears can be moved to the park soon. For now, those bears are living with their owners, although they are no longer dancing. The bears have been fitted with a special chip to allow their easy identification.

Charlie joins 13 other former dancing bears earlier freed of their chains and is shipped to sanctuary in southern Bulgaria.