Harmony with Brown Bears

Issue 107, December 2017.
Harmony with Brown Bears
Bears are beloved in Ukraine. Not only are they the national symbol of the Zakarpattia region, but they are prevalent in circuses, zoos, and pop culture – like in the popular Masha i Medved (Masha and the Bear). Unfortunately, bears are not always treated well in the area, as they continue to be poached and are subjected to serious mistreatment by business ventures like circuses, private zoos, or even unscrupulous tourist venues. 
Once captured, bears can made to drink alcohol, expected to dance or perform tricks, or even made to skate or ride bicycles – just for the sake of entertainment. Living conditions can be squalid, and ‘bear baiting’ is still prevalent in the training of hunting dogs. Thankfully, that practice was banned in May 2015, but sadly the black-market trade for bears in this region still prevails. Bears that survive these ordeals are left traumatised and will never be able to fully function in ‘the wild’ again, meaning special habitats for their care are needed. That’s where the international animal welfare organisation Four Paws steps in.
Four Paws & the Domazhyr Bear Sanctuary
Based in Vienna, Austria, Four Paws runs awareness projects and goes so far as to go out on rescue missions to recover mistreated animals. Working alongside local authorities, the group recently set-up a bear sanctuary in Domazhyr, just 15 kilometres outside Lviv. This new, forested enclosure will eventually become a 20-hectare haven for abused bears to live in safety in their natural surroundings while receiving special care and rehabilitation. Moreover, the sanctuary will provide local employment and tourism opportunities.
This marvellous sanctuary, nearly completed, officially opened on 12 October and will begin welcoming visitors in Spring (after hibernation). A joint venture between Four Paws, the Ministry of Ecology, Natural Resources Ukraine, the National Forestry, and the Yavoriv Administration, the park will eventually accommodate up to 30 bears.
This is the third bear sanctuary in Ukraine, after one near the beautiful lake at Synevyr National Park and one near Zhytomyr on the way to Kyiv, at the White Rock Bear Shelter. Both are dedicated to bear conservation and are very much worth visiting. Leave the bears in tutus for shows like Masha and the Bear; come see them in their natural habitats at one of these sanctuaries.
For more information, please visit four-paws.org. 
Alex Stemp