For more than 30 years, WSPA’s senior wildlife advisor Victor Watkins has dedicated his life to protecting animals from cruelty and suffering all over the world. WSPA News caught up with Victor to hear about the very first bear – and the most recent bears in Romania – that he has helped rescue...
Bear in a battle zone Going into a war zone to rescue a bear would not be at the top of everyone’s ‘to do’ list, but in 1993, when Victor received a call from United Nations Commander Colonel Bob Stewart in Bosnia, he felt compelled to go and help. Victor travelled by tank with British soldiers to see Mackenzie, a terrified bear living in a cage near a bombed-out restaurant in Bosnia. The soldiers had been going there every day to feed and
©©WSPA / Jiri Rezac
Victor Watkins – a lifetime caring for bears
care for him. “The situation was terrible for all involved,” reflects Victor. “It’s probably one of the most dangerous rescues I’ve been involved with. While we were with Mackenzie, we were shot at and there were rockets whizzing overhead.” Thanks to WSPA supporters’ generosity, Victor and Colonel Stewart arranged for Mackenzie to be transported to a bear sanctuary in Holland, where he still lives today, along with ten other bears.
Start of rescue project Mackenzie’s rescue was just the start of what would turn into a lifelong project rescuing bears from cruel captivity. Since then, thanks to Victor, local partner Millions of Friends Association and to WSPA supporters, 60 bears now live in peace at the WSPAfunded Romanian bear sanctuary, and it’s our mission, with your help, to rescue the remaining bears held in illegal captivity and bring them to safety. Victor is determined to see his life’s mission through, until no bear is left to suffer life in cruel, illegal captivity.
The gift of sanctuary With the help of WSPA supporters, the first bear sanctuaries were created by WSPA in the early 1990s in Greece and Turkey, where they were used to end the cruel trade in dancing bears in those countries. Since then, many more sanctuaries for rescued bears have been developed around the world.
Warzone bear: Mackenzie being fed by British soldiers in Bosnia, whose rescue Victor made happen with supporters’ help in 1993 6
WSPA NEWS | ISSUE 14
After bears are rescued and start to enjoy their new-found freedom, Victor marvels at their extraordinary transformation. “It never fails to surprise me how resilient and adaptable bears are,” he says. “When released into the sanctuary, most of the rescued bears I’ve seen behave in a much more natural way, despite having suffered so much in their previous lives. They instinctively know how to climb a tree and swim in a pool, even though most of them may never have seen either. They also know when to hibernate, yet in captivity they never get the chance to hibernate at all. Most of the bears dig dens to sleep in during the cold winter months. It’s a wonderful