Newborn bear cub killing to be legalized

Thursday, 27 March, 2008
Moscow, Russia
IFAW and Greenpeace Russia have reported the “Rules, deadlines and list of ways and means permitted to hunt wildlife” being currently discussed and prepared for ratification by the Government of the Russian Federation. This document will legalize shooting bear cubs right at their den site in case their mother has been killed during the winter hunt. 
First, it may seem that the new Rules are meant to protect bear cubs. This is a complete illusion, however. For instance, paragraph 3.3 prohibits “shooting sows having current year’s crop of cubs before winter hibernation begins”.  But one should remember that hibernation period starts in early November depending on the weather and fat reserves accumulated, while cubs are usually born no earlier than January.
In fact, the new Rules are only copying those 1981 and 1988 orders and instructions by Glavokhota, the State Committee for Hunting, permitting to “hunt”, meaning to kill, newborn bear cubs together with their mother during the winter hunt with its highest season in January-February. Paragraph 3.4 of the new Rules fully legalizes killing newborn bears along with those one-year-olds denning up together with their mother at the end of autumn.  Besides, each hunter will enjoy a legal right to backdate killing “odd” bear cubs: “When hunting at the den site with several bears in one den, shooting all species available in the den is allowed, followed by issuing hunt permits and license purchasing”. 
Now, using their one-bear hunting licenses during the annual den site hunt, hunters usually do not know if there is male or female bear inside the den. When sow is killed there are often a couple of two-week or one-month old bear cubs left in the den, and hunters are faced with a dilemma of either leaving them die without food, bringing them to zoos or mobile circuses, or selling them to private parties. The last three options mean suffering in captivity and, most often, early death of these animals. 
Well-developed economies do not even have to puzzle over such dilemmas: hunting sows and bear cubs is either restricted or completely banned here. In the USA, Canada and countries of European Union, it is strictly prohibited to hunt female wildlife species during the periods of breeding and nursing. Hunting wildlife in these countries is carefully regulated or banned completely, while killing young species or sows with their cubs implies punishment, including criminal penalty.  Three years ago, IFAW and other wildlife organizations succeeded in their effort for banning fox hunting, a cruel entertainment for British aristocracy.  The USA and European Union have banned the commercial hunt of seal pups, and India is proud for having outlawed all forms of wildlife hunt.
Russia seems to be following its own path again. With the new Rules accepted the ways of killing bear cubs will become even more “humane”, which means absolutely convenient for people; while hunters will legally get rid of both remorse syndrome and orphaned bear cubs. Quickly and almost painfully.   
Unfortunately, neither author of this “humane” plan has ever though of another, really careful and conscientious solution that implies prohibiting winter den site hunt and “male/female bear” lottery, giving female bears the opportunity to nurse and raise their cubs. IFAW, Greenpeace and other organizations and conservation agencies have long been insisting on this solution.  Local authorities have tried to introduce temporary restrictions during the hunting seasons in some regions of Russia, such as Tverskaya, Pskovskaya and Novgorodskaya territories.   However, someone or something still seems to be hindering the introduction of Russia-wide regulations banning winter den site hunt once and for all.
«There are almost 110 thousand species of brown bear only living in Russia. Such numbers produce and illusion of inexhaustible wildlife resources. It feels like life is not long enough to spend them all. However, according to expert valuation, each year, 3-4 bear cubs get killed during the winter den site hunt in Russia. As a result, nature might take a quick and tough revenge, demonstrating a sharp decrease in brown bear population in less than a decade. This has already happened to many other wild animals round the globe, like tiger, leopard, saiga, and Tibetan antelope», - says Maria Vorontsova, Director IFAW Russia. 
Still this country can boast a story of success in saving orphaned bear cubs.  Due to IFAW project launched in Tverskaya region under the guidance and methodology of Professor Valentin Pazhetnov over 130 young bears found by hunters, loggers, hunt inspectors or occasional travelers were saved, nursed and successfully returned to their natural habitat during the past 12 years. However this single project cannot resolve a complex country-wide problem. Certainly, if humans create a friendly and safe environment for bear cubs to study survival and look for food on their own, such bears, on reaching 8-9 months of age, can be returned to their natural habitat with a lucky ticket to enjoy their wild life. Today, along with other measures and indisputable success of IFAW bear rehabilitation project, we, first of all, have to create legislation supported environment for saving newborn bear cubs across Russia, preventing their death during the winter den site hunt.

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