Miljen, the brown bear


The race against time to save Miljen, the brown bear.

“He is eight years old, and has thick brown fur with golden highlights. He is called Miljen, after the film director who initiated the project to save this brown bear.

He is docile, unaggressive, and because he has always been with people he enjoys their company. He used to share his playground with tigers and wolves when he lived in the training camp of a Serbian paramilitary unit called “Arkan’s Tigers” after the name of their leader, Arkan, who used to march around proudly with the big cats that were his mascots. He was notorious throughout the Balkans during the war years until his assassination.”

So begins the article written by Patrick Sacco president of the animal defence association ‘Respectons’ in April 2008, when Miljen finally arrived safe and sound at the Refuge de l’Arche, after months of trials and tribulations, and a narrow escape from death.

Captured as a cub when his mother was shot by a hunter, Miljen had lived his whole life behind bars. This pitiful yet majestic animal was kept in appalling conditions in a small concrete cell, and when ‘Respectons’ heard of his plight he was facing certain death, either by starvation (he weighed only 75 kilos, just a third of what his weight should have been) or by euthanasia because no-one either cared for him or had a use for him in the war-torn Balkan states, and the site was due to be destroyed.

Patrick Sacco organised a first expedition to save Miljen in March 2008, but although everything was ready and waiting to bring him back to France, in itself a complicated logistic operation, at the last minute permission was denied them by the Serbian minister for ecology, on grounds that were never made clear. After much political intervention and diplomatic discussion, the authorities finally agreed to sign the papers for his transportation on Monday April 14, 2008. Once they had the green light there was no time to waste, so the very next day, before dawn, Miljen was sedated, placed in a special cage lent by a zoo in Paris, and as soon as he came round from the anaesthetic and his cage was safe in the specially air-conditioned lorry, his journey began. Red tape at each of the borders they had to cross between Banja Luka, capital of the Republic of Srpska, where Miljen was kept, and the final customs check at Roissy airport in Paris meant the journey took more than 17 hours. On Wednesday, April 16, Miljen arrived safely at his new home at the Refuge de l’Arche thanks to Christian Huchedé. After two months of quarantine he will be able to join two female brown bears in their enclosure and live the rest of his life happily and peacefully.


This rescue operation was regularly covered by the French press and television. Anyone wishing to consult the original documents will find them on the French version of this website, under ‘
Une opération de sauvetage pour l'ours Miljen
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