In its 20th year, orphan bear project rehabilitates, releases another 14 bears

This year celebrates 20 years since IFAW embarked on an exciting experiment to return orphaned bear cubs back to the wild.

A lot has changed since 1995. The experiment has grown into the IFAW Orphan Bears Rescue Center (OBRC), equipped with all the necessities for successful rehabilitation and release of orphaned bears, including safe transportation of bears to the release sites, large forest enclosures where the bear cubs start exploring their future habitat, special feed, veterinary care, and protocols needed to ensure ongoing future success. 

OBRC hosted 16 bears this year, a larger amount than in the last few years. After the care and rehabilitation first in the warm “den” house, then in the forest enclosures, 14 of them were released in September and October.

The second enclosure that IFAW helped build was very useful. It helped accommodate the bevy of cubs, and when two bear cubs who lost their mother in May were delivered, they were put in the empty enclosure by themselves where they received special care.

READ: More orphan bear cubs released

This animal welfare project was crucial to a very important conservation decision by the Russian government: the ban on the winter bear hunt. This cruel hunt—when the female bears that had just given birth to 2 – 4 cubs were forced out of dens with dogs and shot—was responsible for the majority of the bear cubs arriving at OBRC.

For several years we fought for the ban, appealing to different officials with collected evidence that the winter hunt ruins the population, eradicating the females with cubs (the dogs easily find the dens with females and cubs as there are more sounds and smells from them than from a calmly laying males).

After the ban the number of bear cubs at OBRC diminished by nearly a half, and we were able to accept bear cubs from as far as Siberia and the European North of Russia, not just the immediate area.

The ORBC released 14 bears in September and October.

The story of Yasha and Misha was particularly compelling.

These bear cubs orphaned when their mother was frightened from the den by the noise of the tree-logging activities in March 2015. It happened in Kostroma Region and Vassily drove 800 km to take the bear cubs and 800 km back to OBRC. Two male bear cubs were named Yasha and Misha (Jacob and Michael). The Kostroma Region asked to release the bear cubs back in the region and found the best place for it – the Kologriv Forest Nature Reserve, a strictly protected nature territory. 

WATCH: Get up close to cute baby bears with the bottle cam

When the cubs were ready to survive on their own in the wild, the long way to the release site started. First the bear cubs made 1250 km in the transportation cages in the specially equipped IFAW OBRC vehicle. The morning of the next day a radio collar was put on one of the bears and the bears were transported in the Reserve’s ATVs to the release site not accessible by any other means which was made for their safety. This route took several hours as after the first in the year snow the land was wet and muddy, several times the ATVs were stuck in mud and were pushed and pulled by all people present. That first snow didn’t last for long. The temperature went up and the bears could feed on wild berries and plants in the Reserve.

Now we are preparing for the next small bear cubs to arrive beginning in January, when mother bears begin giving birth to the new season’s cubs, but for various reasons cannot care for them.

--MD

Please make a holiday gift to help the orphan bears of Russia and animals around the world.

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