These images show how a bear in war-torn Ukraine was rescued and taken to an animal sanctuary out of harm’s way after allegedly spending over 20 years in a concrete cage.
The male brown bear (Ursus arctos), which has been named as 20-year-old Vova, was rescued by animal rights organisation Four Paws, which is headquartered in the Austrian capital, Vienna, and which told Newsflash that the bear used to perform at a recently-burnt-down restaurant in the Khmelnytskyi region of Ukraine.
It added that the bear is believed to have “spent its entire life in a tiny, concrete cage” near the restaurant, with the bear’s former owner handing the animal over to the authorities, “thereby enabling the rescue”, after the restaurant burnt down. It is currently unclear what caused the blaze at the restaurant.
Four Paws said that the animal had been taken to the Bear Sanctuary in Domazhyr, which is a village near the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, and that it had been monitored by a vet during a trip. The Bear Sanctuary is also operated by Four Paws.
It added that it continued to provide support for animals at the sanctuary despite Russian attacks growing ever closer. It said: “Although attacks have now also been reported in western Ukraine, the Bear Sanctuary team continues to provide the best possible care for all bears. The Bear Sanctuary continues to provide a safe place for bears in need.”
Magdalena Scherk-Trettin, who is responsible for bear projects at Four Paws, said: “Vova has arrived safely in our bear sanctuary. We are grateful that the authorities finally made his rescue possible.
“Bears need to roam, dig, and swim, not pace back and forth in a few square feet their entire lives. Vova’s stereotypical behaviour shows that he was bored and unable to act out his natural behaviour.
“Our team at Bear Sanctuary Domazhyr will now take care of Vova so that he can recover and lead a species-appropriate, bear-friendly life.”
Four Paws said that the private ownership of bears is still legal in Ukraine, “but legislative changes in November 2021 made keeping bears and big cats for recreational and entertainment purposes illegal”.
But it added that despite the change in the law, “the court that was supposed to decide his fate twice dismissed the case”.
Vova’s fate changed when war broke out in Ukraine, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces illegally invading the country on Thursday, 24th February.
Four Paws explained that after the war began, the authorities contacted them and asked them to take the 20-year-old bear “into their care as soon as possible”.
The animal rights organisation said that it had already rescued seven bears from the White Rock Bear Shelter near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. It said that the shelter was operated by a partner organisation called Save Wild Fund.
Four Paws said: “With Kyiv badly affected by the war, a local transport company brought the bears to the bear sanctuary in the safer western part of the country.”
They added that four of the seven bears remain at the Bear Sanctuary in western Ukraine, while three of them “have now been taken to bear sanctuaries in Germany”.
The Domazhyr Bear Sanctuary officially opened to visitors in 2017, “creating a species-appropriate home for bears rescued from cruel and catastrophic husbandry conditions. 34 bears, including new addition Vova and the four bears recently transferred from the White Rock Bear Shelter, now live on the 20-acre site.”
Four Paws said that it was “deeply concerned about the war in Ukraine and is following developments closely, especially since attacks have also been reported in the west of the country”.
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