Albania restaurants are offering diners meat from illegally hunted bears – part of an illicit trade in wildlife that is “out of control” in the country, investigators claim.
Researchers said it was the first time they had seen bear meat cooked in Europe, and experts warned that the crude butchering of animals may lead to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases such as coronavirus, and many others. The investigaion took place in one of such a restaurants.
Bears, monkeys and birds of prey are among live animals being sold on popular Albanian online marketplaces, the investigation found, raising fears for the survival of some species in the country.
Animal-protection charity Four Paws discovered that two of Albania’s leading online sites were carrying dozens of adverts selling brown bears and other species that are legally protected to be killed an consumed as food.
Many photographs of the animals – along with foxes, barn owls and wolves – showed them with their mouths taped up or their claws chained.
It’s a profitable business: a tiny capuchin monkey was offered for €750 (£675), and a barn owl, a bear cub and a wolf for €500 each.
The buyers are mostly restaurant and hotel owners who keep the animals to attract tourists, or individuals who want the animals as pets and status symbols, charity workers said. But also for consumption as exotic meals.
Eagles, the national symbol of Albania, are especially popular with buyers and are often found stuffed as trophies in public places. In spite of the law delcaring them protected species, prohibiting them to be caged or sold,following a huge decline of native wildlife in the country, the implementation of law has been poor.
Although the offenders may be jailed for abuse, the overwhelming majority of the them escape justice.
Four Paws said that after its team reported some of the illegal adverts, they were deleted but new ones reappeared.
“A large majority of the photographs displayed severe animal cruelty, such as foxes with sealed muzzles in plastic boxes, bear cubs in chains and birds with their feet tied,” said Barbara van Genne, of the charity.
Monkeys and birds of prey are often kept in bars and restaurants in Albania as a tourist attraction, while foxes are sold for their fur, according to the investigators.
Wolves are bought to be cross-bred with dogs for the puppies to be sold as guard dogs, commonly used in the mountains against wolves. But other animals are killed, stuffed and put on display.
Animals’ mouths are often taped to prevent them biting and their feet chained to stop them running away.