Croatia: Bear Hugs In Home For Abandoned Cubs

Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka at the Kuterevo Bear Refuge Croatia  Photo/Tomislav Sostarko

Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka at the
Kuterevo Bear Refuge
Photo/Tomislav Sostarko

There is a sanctuary, a refuge for brown bear cubs in a small village Kuterevo, Croatia. Besides abandoned brown bears, baby brown bears that due to an accident or poaching have been separated from their mothers and are too young to live independently have found a home in Kuterevo, on the slopes of Velebit Mountain in Lika – just one and a half hour drive from the coast. Kuterevo Bear Refuge is a unique project in the world.

Brown Bear Kuterevo Bear Refuge

Brown Bear
Kuterevo Bear Refuge

While most of Europe’s brown bears have been wiped out but Croatia’s native population is estimated at 1,000. Thanks to the work of one man, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, who just over ten years ago set up Kuterevo Bear Refuge in the village of Kuterevo, Lika/Velebit region, brown bears and especially abandoned bear cubs have a chance of survival.

A retired social worker Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka has provided a haven for brown bears that wander into villages in search of food and develop too strong a taste for human leftovers. Usually in Europe, when bear cubs get used to humans, they cannot survive in the wild. And when they grow too big, they’re shot.
We wanted to offer an alternative to killing orphan bear cubs that got attached to human civilization,” Crnkovic-Pavenka said.

Brown Bear Kuterevo Bear Refuge Enjoying the pond made especially for the bears

Brown Bear
Kuterevo Bear Refuge
Enjoying the pond made especially for the bears

Crnkovic-Pavenka expects some 500 volunteers from four continents to come to the Kuterevo Bear Refuge between June and October. The good-willed, young working hands and knowledgeable volunteers are expected to do as much work as possible in order to create conditions of quality co-existence of people and the abandoned brown bears in the Refuge. Crnkovic-Pavenka plans volunteer arrivals in groups or by individuals, whose stay may be from a week to four months. Besides work the Refuge is planning to offer the volunteers some forms of entertainment and “rest for the soul”, he said.

Volunteers at work in Kuterevo Bear Refuge

Volunteers at work in
Kuterevo Bear Refuge

Otherwise, a fundraising action “Land For Bears”, which aims to raise enough funds for the purchase of more land, continues in Kuterevo. “We don’t have big demands but we’ve come to the point where the next step needs to be made – lease or purchase extra land – to accommodate the bears already in trouble at various zoos or private keeps”.

Bear cub found outside the village of Kuterevo looking for food and mother

Bear cub found outside
the village of Kuterevo
looking for food and mother

At the rear of the two existing sanctuaries lies forest wilderness with wild bears that pose a threat to the abandoned domesticated ones. The sanctuaries are thus walled off with simple chain-link fences, which allow the resident bears to roam freely beside, but not into, the village.

Hungry bear cub outside village of Kuterevo to  find a home as the Bear Rescue

Hungry bear cub outside
village of Kuterevo to
find a home as the Bear Rescue


Kuterevo Bear Refuge

Kuterevo Bear Refuge

A volunteer from France, Amelie Jaquet, said other European countries should follow Croatia’s lead if they have any native bears left.
When you come here to help, you actually realize that something is wrong in your own country,” Jaquet said. “We killed all the bears and we do not know how to live with nature anymore.”

Signposts left by visitors at Kuterevo Bear Rescue

Signposts left by visitors at
Kuterevo Bear Rescue

In Croatia around 1000 bears live in the wild. The bears living in Croatia are a part of the Dinaric (land mass/mountain chain spanning across Southern Europe) bear population, estimated to be around 3,000. The bear is biologically classified as a rare species. The limited size of the available habitat and the large space the bears require, prevent any significant further growth of the bear population.

Playful brown bears at Kuterevo Bear Rescue

Playful brown bears at
Kuterevo Bear Rescue

The mountains do connect people and a testament to that are the Kuterevo Bear Refuge planned activities for 2015 in which the Refuge will participate at the end of summer in the big EU sponsored project (Erasmus and European Commission) – youth education exchange program in which tradition and alternative ways of life, global problems and local solutions are to be addressed and researched.

In winter, before they go away to sleep - checking the frozen pond at Kuterevo Bear Rescue

In winter, before they go away
to sleep – checking the frozen
pond at Kuterevo Bear Rescue

So, anyone wanting a bear hug, a gratitude from a saved cub, Kuterevo and Velebit area of Croatia might just be the place for you. A feel-good story in any case. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Links to Kuterevo Bear Refuge blog, newsletters and other information:


A video made by a volunteer visiting Kuterevo Bear Refuge:





  1. Bless these good people and their great kind hearts
    and bless You, too, Ina,
    for sharing such a positive post.

    Big Hugs


  2. Definitely a feel good story! The man responsible for this deserves a load of gold stars.

  3. Love the story, thank you for sharing!

  4. How cute!!!!

  5. Fantastic. Yet another direction in which Croatia leads the way. Well done to this man and all the volunteers. I hope they get the extra land needed.
    xxx Huge Hugs Ina xxx

  6. How sad that the bear now is a rare species. Reading about the sanctuaries made my heart happy 🙂

    • It is Christy and in many cases “intervention” comes a little late, this one though seems will help greatly and let’s hope the bear returns to other parts of Europe

  7. This is heart-warming to know that the bears are being cared for.

  8. such a heartwarming story. We are having problems here with black bear coming into residential areas, they have been forced out of their habitat by humans, unfortunately this generally means the bear will be put down. They were endangered species here but are quite plentiful now, still it is heartbreaking that these innocent animals are being killed. Thank you Ina.

  9. Precious. Showed my boy this post. I think more human interest stories and reports like this would be great. =)

    • Aw, thanks Diana – I will try and put out more such stories as it does become very painful to watch people suffer due to political rut that needs to be cleared – one day, God willing – it’ll all be good news 🙂

  10. Well, that was certainly a pleasant and uplifting read. Well done. If only more people focused their energies on this type of humane endeavor, the world would be a far better place for mankind and our fellow creatures.

    • Wouldn’t the world be nice if in fact we could focus on nice things at all times instead of having to deal with awful politics that make life awful, Donald – one day perhaps, one day

  11. This is so neat!

  12. How wonderful… delightful post! 🙂

  13. Sounds like a wonderful project.

  14. What a lovely post. Thank you. Micheline

  15. So Loving 🙂

  16. The Naughton Weekly headline news this week (click photo to article)

  17. So cute.. I need a bear hug …

  18. I have great admiration for people who do this kind of thing. The deserve all the help and recognition they can get. Thank you for posting this heartwarming story.

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