The Phenomenon Of 'Albanian Restaurant Bears' Is Coming To A Close

People love their pets so much they sometimes seek out eating establishments that allow their furry friends to dine alongside them. According to 2022 reporting from Bon Appétit, in fact, the dog-friendly restaurant business is doing better than ever. Typically, though, when we think of dining alongside an animal companion, we think of a dog and cat — or in some cases a raccoon, as Your Restaurant Business notes. In Albania, though, much larger and perhaps unexpected creatures are often found in restaurants: grizzly bears.

Those bears in Albanian restaurants are not brought in by guests, but instead kept in permanent captivity at hotels and eateries to attract visitors. According to CNN, this phenomenon has happened in Albania for quite some time, so much so there's a term for it: an "Albanian restaurant bear." Concern has grown over the safety and well-being of these animals on permanent display, often in small enclosures. As a result, the era of the Albanian restaurant bear may now have ended, as Reuters reports.

The last Albanian restaurant bear is named Mark

As CNN goes on to report, the last grizzly bear in Albania to be kept in permanent residence at a restaurant is named Mark. According to the Austrian animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS International that has helped seek out and relocate these animals through their #SaddestBears program, as of 2016 there were 30 known Albanian restaurant bears in captivity, and they were most often kept in inadequate shelters and fed a poor diet.

After ending the restaurant bear tradition in Kosovo, FOUR PAWS turned its attention to Albania and with the orgainzation's help and the cooperation of Albanian authorities all but one restaurant bear, Mark, had been re-homed. In 2021, Four Paws and wildlife veterinarians checked-in on Mark and found the bear in poor health. Per Reuters, Mark was born around 1998 and had lived at the Sofra e Ariut (Bear's Table) restaurant since he was a cub. According to a FOUR PAWS press release, upon initial examination Mark showed signs of stress. He was overweight and he had broken teeth, likely caused by chewing the bars of his cage out of boredom.

Mark now lives in Austria

After Mark's removal from the Albanian restaurant, he now lives at the BEAR SANCTUARY Arbesbach in Austria, owned and operated by FOUR PAWS, according to CNN. Mark will be given time to adjust to his new, much larger and more natural enclosure, where he'll live alongside three other bears. According to Magdalena Scherk-Trettin of FOUR PAWS, Mark will have to adjust to his new diet after years spent eating restaurant leftovers. In a press release, Scherk-Trettin said (via CNN) " ... [H]e was a little reluctant about the vegetables, but munched happily on the grapes we gave him."

This development in Mark's life was not greeted as good news by everyone. On the day that Mark left, his caretaker at the Albanian restaurant the bear once called home, Misir Maxhuku said (via Reuters) "Today I am not feeling good because they are taking the bear away. We have been used to living with (him)." According to the FOUR PAWS website, now that the era of restaurant bears may have ended, wild bears in Albania kept in captivity for other purposes is still a problem, and so, too, is the illegal breeding and trade of big cats.