02/21/20 Members of the European Parliament to our Minister of Agriculture: End illegal bear keeping!

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Croatia holds the EU Presidency but has not been implementing its own laws to the detriment of animals for over a year now

- Animal Friends have already sent two rush notes to the Veterinary Inspectorate, but it tolerates breaking the law

MEPs gathered in the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, which operates within the EU's leading animal welfare organization, Eurogroup for Animals, sent a memo to Croatian Minister of Agriculture, Marija Vučković, in which they demand from the Ministry of Agriculture to implement the Animal Protection Act that is currently being violated, and end illegal holding of brown bears in Croatia.

The memo, signed by Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp as President of Animal Welfare Intergroup, reminds that in October 2017 the Animal Protection Act came into force in Croatia, prohibiting the keeping and display of bears outside registered zoos and refuges, with a transitional period ending December 31, 2018.

"In order to successfully enforce the ban, international organization FOUR PAWS signed a Memorandum of Cooperation Agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture in December 2018, stating that the Ministry would, after inspection verification, seize all illegally kept bears and move them to licensed refuges and bear rehabilitation centers in Croatia and abroad. The ministry also guaranteed that private individuals would not be allowed to keep new bears. But the Veterinary Inspectorate responsible for law enforcement and taking away the bears is unresponsive," says Natalija Svrtan of the Animal Friends Association, which is a member of Eurogroup for Animals and working with FOUR PAWS to move bears to shelters and implement the Act.

Thanks to the confiscation by the Ministry of Agriculture, in June 2019 FOUR PAWS was able to rescue two illegally held bears and move them to shelters in Croatia and abroad. The same legal provision, which is not being enforced, applies to the remaining three, still illegally captive bears.

In the memo, the 15 MEPs further warned that despite these efforts, the illegal keeping of bears in captivity continues in Croatia. They point to problems previously pointed out by Animal Friends as well: "Two brown bears are still being held captive as a tourist attraction near the Macola restaurant in Korenica, a facility that is not registered either as a zoo or as a refuge, and is therefore illegal under the Animal Protection Act. Nevertheless, the confiscation of these two bears was not ordered by the authorities. We strongly recommend consistent implementation and insist that urgent measures are needed to achieve compliance with national legislation."

The MEPs believe that even though a ban on keeping and displaying bears outside registered zoos and refuges is a positive step, the protection of other wild animals, such as big cats, remains insufficient in Croatia. Therefore, they conclude: "We strongly recommend the adoption of a Positive List (similar to the lists applied in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) that specifies species that can be privately kept and thus extends the protection of other animals. We appeal to the Ministry of Agriculture in Croatia to implement the Animal Protection Act and to end illegal keeping of brown bears in Croatia once and for all."

Animal Friends support the appeal of the MEPs and demand urgent relocation of remaining bears to shelters. They add that, in addition to Macola's bears, there is also a bear named Ben in the illegal captivity of one family in Ruščica. Last December, they submitted a report to the Veterinary Inspectorate, which is responsible for implementing the Act, requesting the urgent relocation of bears to shelters rather than legalizing violators of the Act. But even despite the subsequent submission of two rush notes, they have not received an answer so far.

Natalija Svrtan from the Association points out: "We would like, especially now that the Republic of Croatia holds the Presidency of the European Union, to restore our country's reputation, and we would like to help the Ministry and the Veterinary Inspectorate avoid sanctions and creating a bad reputation."

In conclusion, they urge those responsible to urgently reach a Decision to move the bears so this story doesn’t spread and escalate beyond the borders of our country.

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