World

Living with nature: In Croatian village, people and 8 domesticated bears make easy neighbors

  • In this photo taken on Saturday, April, 4, 2015, young bears play at a shelter that attracts hundreds of visitors and volunteers from around the world every year, in Kutarevo, Croatia. Over a decade ago, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, a retired Croatian social worker decided to help bears become "ambassadors of the wilderness" among people and set up a unique shelter for brown bears in the idyllic mountain village of Kutarevo in central Croatia, where eight bears currently live in two huge enclosures.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)

    In this photo taken on Saturday, April, 4, 2015, young bears play at a shelter that attracts hundreds of visitors and volunteers from around the world every year, in Kutarevo, Croatia. Over a decade ago, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, a retired Croatian social worker decided to help bears become "ambassadors of the wilderness" among people and set up a unique shelter for brown bears in the idyllic mountain village of Kutarevo in central Croatia, where eight bears currently live in two huge enclosures.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken on Saturday, April, 4, 2015, a bear chews on a corncob at a shelter that attracts hundreds of visitors and volunteers from around the world every year, in Kutarevo, Croatia. Over a decade ago, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, a retired Croatian social worker decided to help bears become "ambassadors of the wilderness" among people and set up a unique shelter for brown bears in the idyllic mountain village of Kutarevo in central Croatia, where eight bears currently live in two huge enclosures.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)

    In this photo taken on Saturday, April, 4, 2015, a bear chews on a corncob at a shelter that attracts hundreds of visitors and volunteers from around the world every year, in Kutarevo, Croatia. Over a decade ago, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, a retired Croatian social worker decided to help bears become "ambassadors of the wilderness" among people and set up a unique shelter for brown bears in the idyllic mountain village of Kutarevo in central Croatia, where eight bears currently live in two huge enclosures.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken on Saturday, April, 4, 2015 young bears play at a shelter that attracts hundreds of visitors and volunteers from around the world every year, in Kutarevo, Croatia. Over a decade ago, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, a retired Croatian social worker decided to help bears become "ambassadors of the wilderness" among people and set up a unique shelter for brown bears in the idyllic mountain village of Kutarevo in central Croatia, where eight bears currently live in two huge enclosures.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)

    In this photo taken on Saturday, April, 4, 2015 young bears play at a shelter that attracts hundreds of visitors and volunteers from around the world every year, in Kutarevo, Croatia. Over a decade ago, Ivan Crnkovic-Pavenka, a retired Croatian social worker decided to help bears become "ambassadors of the wilderness" among people and set up a unique shelter for brown bears in the idyllic mountain village of Kutarevo in central Croatia, where eight bears currently live in two huge enclosures.(AP Photo/Amel Emric)  (The Associated Press)

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.

But not in the remote mountain village of Kutarevo, Croatia. Here since 2002, 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.

Two sanctuaries walled off with simple chain-link fences allow the eight resident bears to roam freely beside, but not into, the village. To the rear lies forest wilderness, where the domesticated bears would face risk of attack by wild bears. So the bears are confined to two enclosures approximately 150 meters (yards) wide each.

"We wanted to offer an alternative to killing orphan bear cubs that got attached to human civilization," Crnkovic-Pavenka said.

Hundreds of volunteers worldwide come to Kutarevo annually to help Crnkovic-Pavenka. Visitors are advised to enjoy watching the bears, a mixture of juveniles and adults, play and eat and laze about.

While most of Europe's brown bears have been wiped out, Croatia's native population is estimated at 1,000.

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."

Crnkovic-Pavenka says he's experienced just one life-threatening event in 13 years' work at the sanctuary, when rescuing a German volunteer who had wandered into an enclosure and started serenading the bears by guitar. The German was bitten but suffered no serious wounds, and the bear had to be shot to rescue Crnkovic-Pavenka.

___

Associated Press reporter Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Bosnia, contributed to this report.