After spending the first few years of his life alone chained to a pole, a bear once dubbed 'Europe's saddest' has adorably fallen for the first ever fellow bear he's laid eyes on.
When FOUR PAWS Animal Rescue arrived at a mountain-side village in southeast Albania, searching for a young bear believed to be in immediate danger, they were greeted by a harrowing sight.
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Shackled to the wall of a windowless shed with less than a meter of metal chain to manoeuvre with, a two-year-old bear cub stood noticeably distressed and in a constant panic to free itself from the constraints.
With the maligned cub having never seen another bear before, the FOUR PAWS team transported the bear – named Riku – to the Dancing Bears Animal Rescue Park, in Belista, Bulgaria, for urgent rehabilitation.
Arriving at the park in May last year, Riku was slowly introduced to his natural environment, but he had to do so in solitary confinement until he was big enough to be introduced to the older bears.
Just over a year later, after several months of touching noses through the fence between their separate enclosures, Riku was introduced to Gabriella, a 22-year-old three-pawed bear, rescued from the Bulgarian circus.
Once acquainted, the pair have reportedly "not stopped playing with each other since," often touching one another tenderly and spending all of their time together.
Striking a romantic relationship just before the conclusion of their mating season in July, Jeta Lepaja, a spokesperson for FOUR PAWS, said: "The whole team was very excited and happy when they spotted the bears spending time together for the first time.
"It can be very nerve-wracking introducing two bears for the first time, but Riku's and Gabriella's meeting was magical.
"Both bears wanted to be with each other all the time, from the very beginning – it was like they had known each other for a very long-time.
"They never stopped touching one another or playing together – they were and are totally inseparable.
"If one of them wanted to swim in the pond, the other would follow; if one of them ate their meal, the other would do the same.
"Soon, we will move them both to a bigger enclosure where they will likely live with more of the bears.
"The Dancing Bear Park is home to all different kinds of afflicted bears – blind, deaf, injured - so the team are very selective about which bears they choose to introduce.
"FOUR PAWS works across thirteen different countries and we aim to improve the political climate for animal welfare and prevent animal suffering in the future.
"We receive no government funding – it's only with the help of our kind donors and supports that we can continue to help animals."
To donate to the FOUR PAWS team, please visit: https://secure.four-paws.org/donate