Apart from enjoying the beautiful natural sights of Kuterevo village and surrounding mid-Velebit area, with the landscapes so unrealistic that they look like heavily retouched photos used for bragging on Instagram, and breathing in the air of such good quality, that those of us who are smokers feel a bit ashamed for contaminating it, we actually have a few activities that are the main purpose of us being selected to come here.
Taking care of bears
Cute, furry, adorable, and over 100 kilograms each, bears like all the wild beasts when being put in enclosures like this, demand daily care and observation. Our tasks concerning the bears in the most direct manner are the following:
- Collecting herbs and feeding it to the bears
- Keeping the area around enclosures clean
- Monitoring and keeping track of the bears’ behaviour (especially Mirna, who came from Split Zoo last Spring)
- Repairing fences and building new enclosures
- Reading and learning about the bears, and from the bears
Guiding the visitors
One of the biggest demands and pressures that is put on any refuge is adequately dealing with visitors, who are arriving daily and in bigger numbers year after year, even though there are no promotional activities, nor the refuge was ever meant to be a typical tourist attraction. Besides three lovely local girls, Annamaria, Barbara, and Glorija, who are supporting refuge by welcoming and guiding visitors, the tour guide job is one of the most important tasks for EVS (European Voluntary Service) team to handle. That is why we need to learn fast and use the most of our narrative and foreign language skills, to be able to answer the various questions asked by visitors from all over the world and to give our best so they will understand the place and its values and ideas.
The garden arranged and maintained by the principles of permaculture is another part of the Kuterevo Bear refuge. We use it to produce food for the needs of volunteers (and bears), so a pretty big span of vegetables and some fruits are being grown here, as tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins, kale, broccoli, raspberries, strawberries All of it tastes delicious and is incomparable to the veggies that can be bought in city supermarkets.
One of the ways of achieving self-financing of the refuge is with donations from visitors. For their support, visitors can get small souvenirs made by local craftsmen and women, or by volunteers. Sometimes, we just paint small wooden necklaces and key chains, but sometimes we carve in wood or create ornaments using the pyrography technique to create real art pieces to some extent. It is the way we express ourselves and add a personal touch to every piece of souvenir. Also, there is a lot of items produced by the locals and thus visitors of the refuge also support local lifestyle and traditions.
Most importantly, whatever we do, we try to do it together, and function as a well -organised team. We divide our tasks weekly and daily, but also try to be flexible, hop in and help where we are needed the most at the exact moment. That kind of a lifestyle is typical for our host village and the surrounding areas, and it was through centuries and possibly still is the only way to make living. Whenever in labour, people here strongly rely on the help of their neighbors, and they are pretty much synchronized when it comes to choosing what kind of work are they gonna do. If the task is, for example, preparing wood for heating during the winter time, the whole village will do it simultaneously, moving from house to house, until everyone is set. Almost entirely opposite of the imposed lifestyle today, where individualism is strongly encouraged. Observing it, and being part of it, is definitely adding some extra values to our life experience. It is upon us how and where, are we gonna used in our future lives.
Written by Ilija Nanić
Photographs:Petra Lesjak, Ilija Nanić, Milica Knežević