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On this page, the latest rescue mission will be published.

Bear MILA
On October 1st 2022, the Bears in Mind team traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to rescue 7-year-old bear MILA from her unfortunate predicament. For this rescue mission and professional transport we hired EKIPA, who have already transported bears for us from Ukraine, Bulgaria and Spain.

MILA spent the first 6 years of her life in a small dark cage in someone’s home, hidden from the outside world. We only tracked her down in 2021 and together with the responsible authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we ensured that the bear was eventually transferred to a temporary holding at Sarajevo Zoo. She has been here since March 2022 and we have sent extra funds to the zoo, to cover food and medical care and prepare her for the long journey to The Bear Forest in The Netherlands.

On Monday 3rd of October, the Bears in Mind and EKIPA teams started preparations early in the morning. The transport crate was placed and secured in front of the cage MILA was in, after which we tried to lure her into the crate with her favorite treats. But MILA wasn’t easy to catch, it turned out. After an hour of trying, it was decided to sedate her. After all, we had a tight deadline to meet: the vet’s service at the Bosnian border would end at 5:00 PM and we had to obtain signed documents from him before that time in order to cross the border with bear, into the EU. Strict controls were expected at the external border of the EU, so everything had to be 100% okay.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. After leaving Sarajevo Zoo, the team and bear had to go to the local customs office with the bear to prepare various other papers. This took many hours longer than expected. The subsequent ‘race to the border’ was to no avail, the veterinarian on duty had gone home and no one could help us anymore. Only at 8 AM next morning, on World Animal Day, did the border office open again and after a delay of more than 13 hours we were able to continue our journey again.

On the other side of the border, a major new challenge soon unfolded. Due to an error by Sarajevo Zoo in a document, the Croatian customs agent could not see the papers in the system and the Croatian border inspector / vet could not sign the EU travel documents. It took another 7 hours before we could get back on the road! Fortunately, MILA was calm all this time. The long road ahead of us, through Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, continued without any problems. Early in the morning, on Wednesday the 5th of October, we arrived at Ouwehands Zoo and the Bear Forest. MILA was unloaded smoothly by the team of bear keepers and curiously inspected her new (temporary) environment in the quarantine of the Bear Forest. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! MILA will be examined and quarantined for the next month, before her release into her new forever home.

UPDATE July 2023:
MILA is doing great so far. She is really enjoying the space she gained in the forest, and is very curious about all the other residents living there and the new natural surroundings.

On August 3 2019, bears Medo & Buya were loaded onto a transport van which took them all the way from the small town of Vlahi in Bulgaria to the small town of Aprica in Northern Italy. It was a long but successful journey, where the bears were actually very calm throughout the trip.

On August the 4th they arrived in Aprica and were taken up the mountain to their new home. Their 10,000sq meter natural forested enclosure is part of an education centre for Alpine wildlife: https://www.parcorobievalt.com/centri-visitatori/osservatorio-eco-faunistico-alpino

During the next days both bears settled in nicely, each their own separate indoor enclosure. After several weeks of exploring the forested outdoor enclosure, the bears were finally reunited again!

They are doing very well and we hope that they will have many wonderful years to come!

Let’s take you back a bit…

Bear Medo was rescued from a circus in 2004 and via temporary keeping in Sofia Zoo, placed at the large carnivore centre in Vlahi in 2006. With financial help from Bears in Mind a special enclosure was built. The main purpose of housing the bear in Vlahi was educational, as living ambassador for his kind. The visitors of the Large Carnivore Education Centre which opened in Spring 2007, had the chance to see a bear in semi natural environment and to observe behaviour close to the natural. Visitors learned more about bears in the wild and the real needs of conserving the species. They received information about the purpose of having the bear there and about the LC centre. School groups which visited Medo, received special lectures about bears in the wild. Local people accepted the bear very positively, with big interest and Medo often received gifts like a big bag with apples (or other fruits), cabbage, tomatoes, etc. The Balkani Wildlife Society (BWS) team was very happy to see that, as it was important for Medo’s long term stay in the village.

In April 2014 bear Medo got a new neighbour: bear Buya from Kormisosh! Bears in Mind helped BWS financially to build a new enclosure for Buya. Once it was finished and all permits were in, Buya moved out of Kormisosh to her new home in Vlahi.

Unfortunately, due to the rough economic situation in Bulgaria and more specifically for NGOs like BWS, funds quickly dried up and the bears could no longer be kept in Vlahi. After Bears in Mind funded their care for another year, it was decided to find a new and safe home for Medo & Buya.

The problem of keeping bears in captivity has a two decades-long history in Georgia. The animals are kept predominantly for local and international tourists’ attraction in restaurants, petrol stations, monasteries, along and nearby the central highway that crosses the country horizontally (Batumi-Dedoplistskaro, approx. 800 km). The issue is linked to two major problems: contribution to wild population decline and inhumane treatment of animals. Many organizations (including Bears in Mind, SEED, NACRES, Tbilisi Zoo, some voluntary shelters, government of Georgia etc.) have been dealing with this problem since the collapse of Soviet Union. Remarkable success was achieved through the implementation of different concrete projects; however, the problem still exists (although not to the devastating degrees as it was observed in the 90s) and bears (predominantly cubs) still occur in captivity every spring. Most of them are still kept under deplorable conditions. In parallel, concerned organizations, at this moment, do not have credible monitoring data and it is not exactly known how many bears there are in (illegal) captivity throughout Georgia. Moreover, effective legislation of Georgia prescribes fines to an owner, confiscation of a bear and moving it to a shelter. Nevertheless, the limited capacity of shelters (including the national zoo) in conjunction to the low awareness of the population leads the government (also the judicial system) to be inactive and “close its eyes” to the problem.

Most of the bears in captivity have been registered in a central database. Several surveys on bears in captivity have been initiated over the years, where information about the bears and their owners was collected, following a specially prepared questionnaire. The bears’ owners received advice on improvement of food, living conditions, health and general care for bears. NACRES staff also checked whether the owner had a permit to keep the bear. This was very often not the case. Curiously, the owners did not use the bears to gain money from them. It is thought that the caged bears are kept as a status symbol. In 2007 three poorly kept bears that lived in a closed-down zoo near Tbilisi were taken to the Bear Forest in the Netherlands. This rescue operation generated a lot of nationwide media attention towards the problem, which put the captive bear issue back on the agenda. With the survey data, the next step was to implement the Captive Bear Action Plan. Furthermore, the development of a shelter for confiscated or rescued bears should be developed. Unfortunately, many of our joint efforts have thus far shown little success. Mostly because of the priorities within the government.

Since 2019, Bears in Mind cooperates with SEED in an awareness initiative, hoping to find lasting solutions for the problems related to captive bears in Georgia.

The general aim of the project (2005-2006) was to generate baseline information about the genetic variation and structure of the Venezuelan Andean Bear populations to be used in the development of a conservation strategy for the species and its remaining habitat. To achieve such final goal the project has several objectives:

  • Determine spatial genetic patterns within and among populations  (genetic variability  and discontinuities);
  • Establish the number and distribution of distinct populations (ESUs);
  • Explain observed genetic patterns in relation to landscape variables (topography, habitat types, human intervention, size of habitat block, distance among blocks,  etc).

The methodology was divided in three basic stages: field sampling, DNA microsatelites analysis, and within and among population genetic variation analysis and geoestatistical analysis.

The project has produced two protocols that increase the research teams’ ability to gather non-invasive hair samples in the field and increase the probability of DNA amplification success while analysing the samples in the laboratory. Moreover, the Venezuelan Government has adopted this project and the methodologies developed as its own program. The new “Monitoring of Andean bear population in the Venezuelan Andes Program” is a Ministry of Environment national Program using all the techniques and protocols developed for this project. Besides that, the techniques are being used in two additional projects that focus on the survey and monitoring of Andean bear populations using non-invasive techniques.

This Human-Wildlife Conflict focused project was financially supported between 2005-2007. To gain more accurate insight in the true number of bears attacking livestock, several local guides are trained and use horses to reach the villages and interview the farmers. Local guides are used in this project since they know the area and it’s people well which increases the chance of cooperation greatly. 65 local people in 17 different villages have been interviewed in total. Since the year 2000 only 83 incidents have been recorded involving cows. Half of these incidents concerns Andean bears, a third of the cows have disappeared (probably stolen) and the rest involves accidents where cows have slipped and fallen into a ravine of broken a leg in which they had to be euthanized. Bears are responsible for only half of the cow-related incidents. Fortunately farmers are not economically dependent on their cows and often only keep small herds. The total number of recorded incidents is not high and the majority involves cows that were unguarded by their herder. This makes it difficult to collect solid data on these problems.

In Venezuela the collected data is used to build the national management plan for Andean bears. The Andean bear range countries cooperate on various levels to tackle the human-bear conflict issues. It’s important to share insights and information, since the consequences of these conflicts have led to a drastic drop in population numbers in the past 30 years. In Ecuador and Colombia similar projects are being implemented.

In India, habitat fragmentation and destruction is one of the main threats to bears, others being poaching for bile extraction (this has started in India according to a recent report), poaching for meat (rampant in some states) and human/animal conflict within or near the forest.

Public awareness
India is very progressive when it comes to bear education. Bears in Mind has supported the educational work of the local NGO Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO). Their education project reaches schools, zoos and museums. Back in the day, the problems with dancing bears in India are considerable. Several thousands of cubs, usually sloth bears, were been taken from their mothers and trained to be dancing bears. ZOO managed to make people aware of the suffering that is caused by this ancient, yet cruel tradition. Between 2002-2012 teaching packages were made with financial support of Bears in Mind. These packages consisted of all sorts of educational games, t-shirts, stickers and posters. More importantly, information about the way brown bears, sloth bears, Asiatic black bears and Sun bears in India were threatened, was included. India is the only country with four different bear species and it is therefore very important to protect them all.

ZOO Outreach Organization has been working with Bears in Mind for 10 years to improve the welfare of bears in India as well as their conservation in the wild. This has been done entirely with education, starting with a conservation education programme aimed at two groups; the visiting public (or organisations which educate them) and the zoo directors of zoos that have bears in their collection. 6,000 bear packets have been printed and ordered by 59 organisation and 8,000 posters have been printed and ordered by 56 different organizations.

In the 2000s, approximately 600 dancing bears were counted in India. By 2009 all were saved and relocated by Wildlife SOS, to their four dancing bear sanctuaries. This organization does not only save the bears, it also provided the former bear owners with an alternative livelihood. Bears in Mind supported Wildlife SOS in such projects.

Wildlife SOS dealt with the problem by addressing it at the source. As soon as an alert came in, about a dancing bear, the intervention team from Wildlife SOS and the responsible authorities rushed to the location. The bear was confiscated and the owner apprehended. Following this, a social program was started, in collaboration with the Indian government. The bear was the main source of income for these poor families of the Kalandar communities. Wildlife SOS helped the families to develop new means of income. The owner got 50,000 rupee for compensation, the children were sent to school and the owner was assisted in finding an alternative way to earn income for his family.

Since the end of 2009, no more bears danced the streets of India. Read more here:

Dancing Bears in India – Final Curtain

Sometimes Bears in Mind also funds non-bear projects. Like this study on wolverines in Norway, between 2003-2008. The results of this study show that wolverines prefer the high alpine regions, but are also attracted to the area below the treeline. In the crossing regions between high tundra and the lower forests the wolverine can find food in abundance. The flocks of sheep were a favourite target, but other (wild) prey was mainly eaten. In areas where wolves and wolverines live together, the wolverines feed on the elk carrion the wolves leave behind. Wolves came back in this region in the nineties. Several years later the wolverines arrived. Evidently the wolverines switched from eating elk (carrion and hunted) and small prey (hunted), to eating elk carrion exclusively. Wolverines are known as scavengers, but this varies according to the area they live in.

The analysis of the preferred habitat of wolf, lynx, bear and wolverine shows that these four species can live together. Each species uses the habitat in a different way. The wolverine prefers the higher areas while the wolf, lynx and bear are true forest dwellers. The lynx uses the lowest areas of the forest. Bears and wolves prefer to live somewhat higher up. Bears stay closest to the wolverines and were seen feeding on the same carcass on rare occasions.

The study area of this project is focused on the arid ecosystem in the extreme southeastern part of the country. Historically, bears in the eastern part of Georgia used migration routes from the Great Caucasus (Lagodekhi Reserve) to the Lori Plateau (Vashlovani National Park). The population in Vashlovani was estimated at approximately 10 individuals and since the region between Lori Plateau and the Great Caucasus has a strong human presence, the migration route might be extremely limited or even no longer functional. This suggestion needs to be investigated by means of radio-telemetry studies. This is important because if there is no genetic exchange between the arid ecosystem and the Great Caucasus range, then the population of the Lori Plateau must be considered as critically endangered, which requires special conservation measures.

Status
Individual bears will be identified by photo-trapping in the study area and their daily activity will be studied. The home ranges of the bears will be defined through intensive monitoring by radio-tracking method. GPS locations will be taken from any bear signs (footprints, scat, marks, dug-up ground, dens and the location of individual bears). All data will be analyzed in GIS. Home ranges will be identified as well as overlapping areas between individual territories. The photo trapping has been very successful and different bears and other animals were photographed. NACRES have data from 3,700 trap/days and captured 65 bear pictures. They also collected approximately 354 pictures of other species, such as: wolf, leopard, lynx, jungle cat, wild boar, porcupine, wild cat, hare, badger and even eagle. Lynx, jungle cat and porcupine photos were most interesting because they were first time spotted on the photo in Georgia. Also two bears were radio-collared. One was unfortunately poached and the second one was collard during the summer of 2008.

NACRES is continually monitoring bears and other carnivores in Georgia through their conservation programs.

Partner:

NACRES

The project started in January 2004 and different stakeholders were invited to an introductory meeting at the beginning of the project. The most important goal of this meeting was to create motivation and commitment among the partners to draw up a management plan. The meeting was led by a neutral facilitator. The main issues such as hunting, estimation methods of bear population and contents of the management plan were discussed. The field work was directed at collecting data on population size, population trends, distribution, habitat use, mortality causes, damage being done by bears, public attitudes towards bears, human impact on the bear population etc.

Funds
Bears in Mind was able to secure funding from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality through their PIN-Matra and BBI-Matra programme. Bears in Mind was responsible for the overall project coordination and interaction with the Dutch sponsors. BALKANI Wildlife Society was responsible for project coordination and implementation locally. In June 2008 the final version of the management plan was presented to the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water and received approval!