Sanctuary for Bears in Lika Provides a Loving Home for Orphaned Cubs

Total Croatia News

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Utociste Medvjeda Kuterevo / Facebook

When life becomes unbearable, all bears go to Kuterevo. 

At the rate we’re going, we might soon open a new section here at TCN: Bears of Croatia. Yes, we’re guilty of reporting on every imaginable sighting of wild bears and their cubs, but can you blame us? Who can resist those plump, fluffy creatures, endearing and magnificent in equal measure?

Plenty of bears have been spotted in urban areas in recent months, mostly in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County. The most peculiar occasion was probably the one when three cubs were spotted running along the Rijeka highway with no mother in sight. A strange occurrence, and many people were right to wonder whether the poor little teddies were orphans, left to fend for themselves. What happens when the youngsters are left without a mama bear? Who is to take care of them and teach them the secrets of survival in the wild?

All unfortunate scenarios aside, there is a place in Croatia where orphaned bear cubs can find a loving home. Meet the Sanctuary for Bears in Kuterevo, a village in Lika situated close to Otočac. Founded by a local named Ivan Crnković Pavenka in 2002, the shelter provides the orphaned and abandoned brown bears with a chance for a happy life.

Mr Crnković, now 71, said the main goal of the project is to provide refuge for those bears who are unable to function alone in the wild, writes TODAYonline in their feature on Kuterevo published on November 3, 2017. The first resident was a cub found by children in a local river, and the sanctuary since took in 15 bears. At the moment, there are nine resident bears in the refuge, all of them named after the people who rescued them or the places where they were first found.


The sanctuary for young bears is financed by donations, and sees more than 20.000 visitors a year. (It seems no one can resist those plump, fluffy creatures.) Apart from providing cubs with a home, the shelter in Kuterevo aims to promote sustainable living and the tradition of the local mountain community. According to Lika Tourist Board, another significant purpose of the programme is to educate the visitors about wildlife and brown bears in particular, providing them with an opportunity to witness the ‘bear charisma’ first-hand.

In 2005, a Volunteer station was founded with a goal of supporting the programme. In the last couple of years, the Kuterevo sanctuary hosted 15 volunteer groups, and more than 50 individual volunteers.


On one occasion, Mr Crnković met with a reporter of Asked how it felt to live with the bears, he said: “It’s like a coin. There are two sides, and it all depends on which side you’re looking at. On one side, life is burdensome and uncertain, sometimes you can’t see the light, and you don’t even know you’re in a tunnel. On the other side, with all your abilities and virtues, you realise you can deal with the wilderness around us, and that you can deal with the wilderness in us as well”, he concluded.

“Why do people come to us? That’s interesting… We don’t have a merry-go-round here. There are no attractions. We were thinking of going to Zagreb, to the Jelačić Square, to install a booth, hand out flyers and invite people to visit us and witness this majestic animal. But we didn’t. They realised where we were, as many are passing through these lands, and they come to us. And they appreciate that there is no merry-go-round here. This is where they can hear a sheep, see a cow. More importantly, they see the coexistence of the civilisation and the wilderness”, said Crnković with his Lika in mind.


The Kuterevo sanctuary is open for visitors in spring, summer and autumn; as the bears tend to get a bit sleepy in winter, the sanctuary staff does their best not to disturb them. It’s also worth noting the shelter never closes, but it’s recommended to visit the bears in the morning or in late afternoon. Anyone who wants to take a look around only needs to check in at the Volunteer station. The entrance is free of charge, but remember these people are doing something extraordinary – be a good visitor and leave a donation.

You can find more information here.


All photos courtesy of Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary Facebook.


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