Many of you have followed the journey of the two bears Amelia and Meimo from Albania to Arosa and are as much in love with the new inhabitants of the Arosa Bear Land as the whole of Arosa. I was able to be part of the transport of this precious cargo and would like to give you some deep insights into the journey.
This last week of January will probably remain in our memories for a long time. The journey to Albania begins before the sun rises - shortly before 5 am I set off from Arosa for Zurich Airport with Marc Gisler (Head of Facility Management Arosa Bergbahnen). I wonder if the seat on the plane with the number 13 and no windows is a sign? We hope for the best. We'll fly via Ljubljana to Tirana and gradually meet all the people we'll be spending the coming week with. Among them are FOUR PAWS representatives, a veterinarian, a photographer and two drivers. In rain and strong wind we make our way to the village, where the restaurant with the former mini-zoo is located.
What I want to emphasise right from the start is that the former owners of the mini-zoo and the bears are very friendly towards us and are really keen to see their bears have a better and more species-appropriate life. The restaurant owner would even like to come and visit Amelia and Meimo in Arosa - so nice to see! So without further ado, they invite us to dinner where we discuss the next day's schedule once again.
The morning after, we have to get serious. We see the bears in daylight for the first time and the vet prepares the sedation (anaesthesia for loading into the transport truck). According to him, Amelia and Meimo are healthy and well-fed, and the male is perhaps a little too well.
I take advantage of the time and take pictures of the enclosure and the two bears. Meanwhile, FOUR PAWS staff and representatives of the Arosa Bear Foundation are preparing the loading: The cages have to be cut open and the anaesthetics prepared. At 10.30am the official transport vehicle plus trailer will arrive at the former mini-zoo. First Amelia, the female bear, is briefly anaesthetised by the vet and carried into the transport box with the help of 4 people and a tarp. While she has time to regain consciousness, Meimo is also anaesthetised and carried into the second transport box. Now it is vital that the two bears are fully conscious again before we leave, otherwise they will be in danger of suffocation. Both bears will be conscious again by around 1pm, so we will be able to say goodbye to the former mini-zoo owner shortly afterwards and begin our journey towards Arosa. We are on our way with a transport cart for the bears and a van for the other helpers.
After 2 hours of driving: The vet makes the first check and gives the bears something to drink and some fruit, they are doing well! At around 5pm we arrive with our van at the border between Albania and Macedonia and are thoroughly checked again. We pass through Macedonia quickly and arrive at another border, that of Greece. We soon realise that we have made good progress so far - because now it seems that the controls will take all night. Although we are registered, the vet from customs is no longer on site at 11pm and the driver with our vet and the bears has to go home to the doctor to pick up the entry permit. This works reasonably smoothly, but the final check of the papers eventually fails due to a non-functional Greek computer system. To cut a long story short - the two of them have to stay overnight with Amelia and Meimo at the border and wait until 9 am to complete the procedure. The rest of the team will, for better or worse, find accommodation for the night. Shortly before 3am we can all enjoy a few precious hours of sleep.
The next morning at 10am, the transport truck with the bears can finally cross the border. Joy reigns - the journey can continue!
On this day, our team splits up: The bear-less part of the team sets off across Greece towards Igoumenitsa before noon. Meanwhile, the "bear gang" looks for a motel and takes a short break after the "tough" night. On the way to the harbour, where we take the ferry to Bari, Italy, at midnight, it rains most of the time and even starts to snow. Just in time for our arrival in the harbour town at 4 pm the first sunrays appear as ordered. We also receive news from the bear crew that Amelia and Meimo are doing well and have just been fed again.
"You can't help it": Our attempt to do an interview with Ulrike Wüstner (Vier Pfoten Germany) at the harbour is unfortunately not going down well with the local police. A round of collecting ID cards is available for this. So we set off to have a little snack and then meet up again with the rest of the team and the bears in the evening. Together again at last!
Now we have to show patience. After midnight we can go on the ferry, in separate areas, with our van and car. We hope that both the bears and us don't get seasick and enjoy a few relaxing hours.
Unfortunately, our scheduled arrival in Bari, Italy was delayed a little the following day. We can leave the ferry at 11am (1.5hr delay). Together with the freight control it takes another time until we can leave for Bergamo. At least the weather plays along and we are stocked up with provisions.
A long car journey to the north lies ahead of us: on this day we will cross almost the whole of Italy - from Bari to Bergamo - a total of more than 900 km. On the way we take small pee/tank/ and coffee breaks. Of course, snack times for the bears are also planned. During the trip the bears are very quiet and seem relaxed. Only when we take breaks does Amelia call us and get nervous. I'm told that Napa was much more nervous than the two Albanian bears on the trip to Switzerland.
We arrive in Bergamo before midnight. The Bergamo Zoo is so nice and lets us park at their place, here our bears are well looked after overnight. Meanwhile, the bipeds are also looking for a cosy nest.
Condition of the bears: Meimo is lively but quiet and eats apple slices diligently. Amelia is also well, but doesn't seem to be that hungry. She is a bit moody and doesn't take the situation as easily as Meimo.
The long-awaited day dawns! February 1, 2019 - the day on which Amelia and Meimo will be allowed to begin their second life.
This morning we can hardly believe it when we look out the window: Already in Bergamo it is snowing continuously. Is this a good or a bad sign? We will find out. At 8 o'clock we leave for the Swiss border. We can only start now, as our drivers have to take a certain number of hours rest and we arrived late the day before. We soon realise that this day will not go as planned. We have been stuck in traffic jams since the beginning, we are not used to such masses of snow here. At 11am we can cross the border, but have to wait for the last veterinary checks to be completed. At noon we meet at the rest stop Bellinzona South and look after our bear-strong friends. It's clear they're getting impatient and temperamental, especially the female. Soon it's time to go! As we are prepared for every situation, we meet a colleague from Allemann Transporte & Traxunternehmung who accompanies us and provides us with snow chains if necessary. Shortly after 3 pm we drive through Chur and are amazed when the first fan waves to us. At the transporter we have to change a tyre without further ado. But thanks to the great support of the accompanying vehicle this is done quickly. The snowdrift becomes even stronger and so we mount the snow chains afterwards - because safety first. The conditions do not allow us to arrive in Arosa before 5 pm. It's incredible how frugally and patiently the two bears have gone through the transport.
What an emotional and breathtaking welcome! Many guests, locals and interested people are already waiting for us at the valley station of the cable cars - unbelievably beautiful! Now the two transport boxes are transported by forklift into the gondola and in the middle station they are carried to the Arosa Bear Land by a snow groomer specially converted for the bears.
Amelia immediately explores the new surroundings, while Meimo, still a little suspicious, only leaves his transport box later. It seems that after just a few days, the two are already feeling very comfortable in the snow-covered Arosa mountains. They explore the surroundings and have already made themselves comfortable after their adventurous journey. Napa (former Serbian circus bear) looked around excitedly for a moment when the new roommates arrived, but is now back in his winter rest.
Facts about the bears:
Amelia and Meimo were born in 2006, just like Napa, the first inhabitant of Arosa Bear Land. The Albanian bears have spent their lives so far in this private mini zoo of a local restaurant. The 60 square metre enclosure where they lived was immediately destroyed after our visit. The restaurant owner wants to keep the bears in the zoo because they are not