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Andreas, one of the world’s oldest bears

THESSALONIKI – Experts say he might be the oldest bear in the world, at least among those that live in a semi-free state. Nobody knows for certain how long bears live in the steppes of Siberia or the Canadian forests, but it is believed they live 25-30 years in the wild. Andreas is now 37 years old, and lives in the Arcturus environmental center at Nymphaios, Florina, in northern Greece. Biologist Lazaros Georgiadis, who is in charge of the center, is certain that Andreas is one of the oldest bears in the world. «As far as we know here at Arcturus,» explains Georgiadis, «there is no older bear in captivity. Bears may live to be more than 40 years old in captivity, but they usually live much less than that. it depend of the quality of their life. We cannot be sure what happens to those that live in the wild, but we do know they can live up to 25.» Andreas is one of 13 bears that live in the Arcturus environmental park at Vitsi, after being rescued from itinerant bear-keepers who used to train them brutally and show them on the streets. Staff from Arcturus found Andreas 10 years ago at Alexandria, Imathia, where a Gypsy used to lead him around on a chain at local festivals. They brought him to Vitsi to spend the rest of his life there, because he doesn’t know how to gather his own food. He is blind, following an operation on his eyes some years ago, but he lives in comfortable conditions in a 100-square-meter enclosure. «He is calm and he likes children. He eats a little and sleeps a lot,» says Georgiadis. Bear populations are decreasing, and in many areas they are in danger of dying out completely. An estimated 30-40,000 bears continue to live in the former eastern bloc countries, another 3,500 in the Balkans, of which 160 are in Greece, 1,000 in Scandinavia and around 120 in Spain and Italy.