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Saved at the last minute: FOUR PAWS rescues Ukrainian brown bears

“Julia” and “Zoya” were in danger of being sold to an illegal bear baiting station


July 2, 2015  – BOSTON -  In Belogorodka near the capital city Kiev bear experts from FOUR PAWS, the international animal welfare organisation, have carried out an emergency rescue mission of two ten-year-old female brown bears. The bears were kept in small, cramped cages on a truck by their owner who could no longer look after them. When the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment heard about this, they approached FOUR PAWS for help. FOUR PAWS needed to act quickly as the owner had already fixed a price to sell the bears and was in contact with bear baiting stations, facilities where the animals are subjected to illegal and cruel ‘hunting’ exercises.


In just a few days the FOUR PAWS team organised the pickup and transfer of the two bears to the nearby BEAR RESCUE CENTRE Nadiya in Zhytomyr. There an already existing enclosure was quickly altered to temporarily hold the animals and the construction of a new additional adaption area for Julia and Zoya was ordered to be developed. FOUR PAWS bear expert Carsten Hertwig expressed his relief that the bears are now safe.


Hartwig explained, “We’re happy to have been able to save Julia and Zoya from life at a bear baiting station. Here in Nadiya we already have a female, Masha, who was used for years as bait for training hunting dogs. In 2013 we carried out a dangerous operation to free her and transfer her to Zhytomyr.”


Julia and Zoya’s owner was cooperative during the handover, and was relieved to give up the bears. It is still unclear as to where the bears originated. One may have been from a Russian travelling circus, and the other abducted directly from the wild. The owner previously worked as an animal trainer in a circus.


Hertwig reported that “Julia and Zoya both have wounds and scarring to their faces, probably from the bars of the cages, and they’re both showing severe behavioural disorders. Unfortunately, we also have reason to assume that Zoya’a sight is impaired.” The bears have been recovering well from the transfer to the BEAR RESCUE CENTRE. However, the enclosure where the bears are due to live currently has only one inner box, which made it challenging to accommodate the animals for their adaption period. For now, Zoya remains in the inner box while Julia stays in the outdoor area.


“Zoya seems to be cautious and probably feels more comfortable in the inner box. Julia was much more confident and has already been exploring before retreating to the den based in the outdoor area. We hope that the new adaption area will help the bears settle in their new surroundings”, said Hertwig.


The experienced team on site are watching the bears very closely and a medical check will be carried out as soon as is possible. As soon as the adaption area is completed, the professional bear management can be started. “It’s then the animal keepers will be able to keep the bears in a separate area while they clean the outdoor enclosure and prepare enrichment objects for the animals. Only when we can be sure about the condition of Zoya’s sight, will we be able to tell if it is possible to socialize the bears at a later stage or whether Zoya needs an enclosure for herself.” said Hertwig.


The request by the Ukrainian Ministry of Environment to intervene in this case is a clear endorsement of FOUR PAWS’ expertise in rescuing and caring for bears.  For years, FOUR PAWS has been committed to ending the illegal private ownership of bears in the Ukraine, and is working hard to give rescued bears a new local home. In April 2015, FOUR PAWS signed a cooperation agreement for the construction of a 12-hectare bear refuge in western Ukraine, near Lviv. The new BEAR SANCTUARY is due to open in Spring 2016, offering former baiting bears a species-appropriate place to live.


Julia and Zoya have now been spared a cruel life of having to fight with dogs at a bear baiting station but many other bears are still suffering in the Ukraine. Hertwig again explained that “Dozens of brown bears are abused as tourist attractions outside restaurants, or as bait for training hunting dogs. The ban on bear baiting – recently passed by the Ukrainian parliament – has let us do something wonderful here, but we’re still very reliant on the government’s help. We’re calling for strict enforcement of the new law, as only then will we be able to free the remaining 20 or so baiting bears.”