A trip to the Orphan Bear Rescue Centre is worth the journey

Rescued bear cubs must learn the skills needed to survive in the wild, but for now there is plenty of time to play.Getting to IFAW’s Orphan Bear Rescue Centre (OBRC) is no mean feat. The London to Moscow leg of the journey was simple enough despite a very early start, and the night train was certainly an adventure.

From there, a one-and-a-half hour drive across what to the untrained eye seemed nothing more than a vast frozen tundra. But, without a shadow of a doubt, arrival at OBRC is worth the journey.

The rehabilitation of orphaned bear cubs was started by Professor Valentin Pazhetnov in 1983 and in 1995 IFAW established the OBRC  and now fully funds the running costs (providing all the facilities including vehicles, snowmobiles, tractors, etc, plus veterinary care)of this vital centre.

Literally in the middle of nowhere, at the time of my visit, the OBRC was lovingly caring for seven orphaned or abandoned bear cubs, run by Valentin's son Sergey and his wife Katya and Sergey’s son Vasili! Three generations of bear experts, giving all of their time, knowledge and compassion to ensure that these orphan bears have a second chance back in the wild where they belong.

Ranging in age from a little over a month old to nearly two-and-a-half months old, the bear cubs all had different back stories as to how they found themselves alone in the depths of the cold Russian winter.

One cub's mother was startled by a boy and his dog and the boy then protected the cub from the dog until his father could come to rescue it, then three bear cubs came in together after their mother was disturbed by loggers and the most recent arrivals, three brothers, following abandonment after a warden fell through their den!

Though these are the official versions of events by the people that brought them in, hunting may have played a part and it is often difficult to tell the real reason that the bear cubs were left without their mother. 

IFAW UK Director Phil Mansbridge helps with the regular feeding schedule.Ignoring for a moment the vast amount of science, tailored care and specialist attention that the bear cubs get almost hourly (and I can testify first hand that feeding a bear cub is not only hard work but also surprisingly tiring), they were incredibly cute!

Knowing that people in Russia and in other parts of the globe could find shooting these bears when they grow older ‘fun’, is not only beyond comprehension, it is just plain barbaric. Feeding, playing, tumbling - watching the seven bear cubs was an endearing experience to say the least.

The reason for my visit was to accompany two journalists who wanted to see first-hand the great work that IFAW is doing here and to showcase the bears’ story and images to the world - not only to raise awareness but also to help raise vital funds to allow us to carry on helping these orphan cubs in need.

The commitment, passion and value I was able to witness at this project puts me in great stead to say that this should be something all of us pledge to help with, so the three generations of Pazhetnovs can continue to be Russia’s bear heroes.

In total, it costs around £10 per day per cub to run the centre – a small price to pay to give these lucky cubs hope.


Learn more about IFAW efforts to rehabilitate orphaned Russian brown bear cubs on our project page.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy