Belitsa- the nature park for rescued “dancing” bears

In the 20th century, dancing bears were a disturbingly popular spectacle in Eastern Europe. These unfortunate animals, often young bears caught in the wild, were condemned to a life of captivity, often chained and forced to perform unnatural tricks for the amusement of the public. Accompanied by musicians, mostly gypsy nomads, they were mistreated and abused for years.

A few years ago, democratic society raised its voice and after protests, these cruel practises were banned. The bears were rescued on the initiative of the “Four Paws” and “Bridget Bardo” Foundations and the Belitsa Municipality. Work soon began to establish a nature park in the Rhodope Mountains as a natural habitat for the rescued animals.

This initiative not only saved lives but also touched hearts and became a popular tourist attraction. Visitors are treated to guided tours filled with captivating stories about each bear’s unique journey. Educational insights into hibernation and social behaviour enrich the experience. Most of the bears in the park were once “dancing bears” from Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania and each of them has a name that tells a story of resilience and redemption.

Why is it regenerative?

The story of the Dancing Bears and the transformation into the Belitsa Bear Park exemplifies regenerative tourism through its compassionate and educational approach. In the 20th century, these bears endured cruel captivity, forced to perform for entertainment. However, as democratic society protested against these practices, they were banned. The park’s popularity as a tourist destination is a testament to the organisations’ effective storytelling and awareness campaigns. Guided tours offer visitors intriguing stories about each bear, fostering a deep connection, and educational experiences.

Project partners met in Aveiro on the 14th and 15th of September 2023. It was the perfect opportunity to visit the destination with regenerative glasses on, to understand its many assets but also some of the challenges the destination is facing. Face to face project meetings always provide the partners with the unique opportunity to learn about the work of the hosting partner and get valuable insights about the destination. In this case partners were hosted by the dedicated team of management and tourism professionals of the University of Aveiro who shared a wealth of insights about a city that was new to many of the participants.

The Enforce project is well on track when it comes to the project work plan, which means that after having completed the Best Practice collection of innovative examples about storytelling for regeneration and also the Storyteller’s Guide, partners used the meeting to discuss the development of the Enforce Training Programme.

For the next few months partners will be working on developing the content in line with guidelines provided by the University of Usak, our project partner from Turkey.
The course should be available for piloting in January/February 2024 and will also be available in the partner languages once all translations are finalised.

The ENFORCE team met in the beautiful city of Luxembourg for its kick-off meeting. It took place at the premises of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg (also known as CCIL), which opened its doors to warmly welcome all partners.

The team was aware of the importance of this first meeting and approached it with the same enthusiasm, as it plays an important role in building strong bonds that will contribute to the success of the entire cooperation. With the common goal of building a solid foundation, the participants discussed in depth the first steps required for the project ENFORCE.

During this visit, the project objectives were discussed in depth to ensure that each partner has a comprehensive understanding of the overarching goals. The outcome of the kick-off meeting was extremely satisfying for all partners and generated enthusiasm among the team. It was a success and left everyone inspired and energised.

The journey of ENFORCE has officially begun and with the collective expertise of the committed partners, there is no doubt that it will thrive and achieve remarkable results.


“The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein”

Project N: 2022-1-LU01-KA220-VET-000089887

© 2024 Enforce Project
Skip to content