The aim of this project was to confiscate several captive bears from poor private keeping in the Yerevan area and give them a new home in the large bear enclosure of Yerevan Zoo, which was completed at the end of 2017 with financial help from Bears in Mind.
Just before Christmas 2017, with funding from Bears in Mind, a bear was freed from its cage at Shant restaurant and transferred to the quarantine enclosure at Yerevan Zoo. She had to stay in quarantine for a few weeks to recover and her very bad teeth were taken care of. She now walks among the other bears in the large bear enclosure in the zoo and is doing well!
The second bear that was rescued in spring of 2018 was a 2-3 year old female (see photo below). Nothing is known about her origin, whether wild or born in captivity, but until rescued by FPWC she was kept in a small concrete cage next to the Golden Hill hotel in the northern Armenian city of Gyumri. She has also been transferred to the quarantine enclosure in Yerevan Zoo and fortunately she is doing well and in excellent health!
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 during that time we 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.
Bear bile has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, with the market in China predominantly involving bile from Asiatic black bears. Despite the introduction of bear farming across Asia in the 1970s to supply the trade in bile, little is known about the effects of farming on demand for wild bile, or the current impact that the trade in bear bile has on wild bears. At the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress in S.Korea, concern about bear farming led to the adoption of Recommendation 139, which called for a “scientifically independent, peer-reviewed situation analysis” to evaluate the contribution of bear farming to the status of wild bear populations.
This project will directly address this Recommendation, taking a consumer and market-based approached using methods designed to understand how the market for farmed bear bile has affected the market for wild bear bile by investigating the complex interactions of these two markets (both in terms of demand and product availability). After the initial funding of meetings between experts from various IUCN Spcialist Groups and the Chinese Government in 2013-2014, Bears in Mind funded a Key Informant Survey conducted in December 2015, which was most helpful in designing the follow-up in-depth investigation. In 2015 interviews were conducted by a China-IUCN team to collect important information about the trade and management of Asiatic black bears in China. Trade in this sense, included the legal and illegal trade. It also included trade in live animals as well as their parts (bear-bile and bear paws). Interviews were conducted in a qualitative format, intended to guide further research and analysis.
2017 – 2019 This follow-up began end of 2017, when Bears in Mind funded a continuation of the large-scale study led by the University of Oxford in the UK in close cooperation with the Sun Yat Sen University in China, the SFA and the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group. The focus was on the consumption, prescription and sale of bear bile, which resulted in some of the first datasets on the prevalence and motivations for bear bile consumption across four provinces in China.
Online consumer survey The team had a final sample of 1,845 respondents. Most (88%, n = 1621) had used some form of bear bile in their lifetime, with more than 2/3 of these consumers (70.1%, n = 1145) buying bile within the last year. Most people (79.3%, n = 1462) knew at least one bile-user, with parents and grandparents being the most frequently reported users. Most consumers (85.6% (n = 1388) stated that they had used bile for medicinal purposes, with 64.1% (n = 1036) reporting that they had used it as a health tonic, and 19% (n = 308) as a gift. The most common place people reported buying bile was at the pharmacy (n = 1142) followed by a hospital (n = 1045), with the least common being from a personal contact (n = 140). The most frequently reported form of bile used was eyedrops (n = 749), with tea the least reported (n = 42). Although 390 people reported using a bear gallbladder, mismatches between reported source and form suggest many do not know the source of bile they use.
Online trade Data collection on online sales for bear bile products on the domestic markets. Information was mostly obtained from e-commerce platforms like Baidu and Bing.cn, as well as select discussion forums like WeChat and social mediaplatforms, to provide insights in the online trading environment from both formal and informal interactions, and consumer interest for specific bear bile product types, particularly of farmed and synthetic origin.
2021 – present In January-April 2021 Sun Yat-sen University (China) and the University of Oxford (UK) worked with multi-stakeholders of bear bile consumption, including consumers, pharmacy workers and TCM doctors to co-design post-COVID19 strategies for reducing illegal bear bile consumption. Specifically, the organized workshops highlighted that consumers and/or potential consumers would respond best to health-related and legality-focussed messaging, whereas the general public should respond best to legality-focussed messaging and incentives to report illegal consumption when they saw it. In this project, the team will test interventions designed in these workshops with key target groups, to evaluate their effectiveness for reducing illegal bear bile use and sale, and make recommendations for future larger-scale interventions. In addition to testing the interventions, the team will also use their findings for larger public outreach, by holding a ‘bear event day’ in the popular Guangzhou Zoo, as there will be a series of events or activities about biodiversity conservation. After the events, the team will also provide the education centre of the zoo with some educational materials from our project.
More information soon…
The East Balkan distribution of brown bears is comprised of two presently connected population segments; the Central Balkan and the Rilo-Rhodopean bear population, shared by Bulgaria and Greece. With more than eight known human bear accidents, including one lethal between 2010-2017 as well as increasesd caused in bear damages, Smolyan region in Bulgaria has become a “hot-spot” for anti-bear attitudes. As a result there is a high risk of bear poaching increase. Localised monitoring has provided a rough estimate of population size but until today a joint rigorous methodology has not been carried out. As knowledge of precise demographic parameters is imperative for the design of assessing mortality and designing conservation actions, estimating the bears in the region seems urgent.
This project, led by Balkani Wildlife Society and supported by Bears in Mind, aims to estimate the population size of the East Balkan distribution of brown bears using non-invasive capture-recapture multiple data source genetic methods. The main overall objective is to provide accurate estimates for total (N) and effective population size (Ne) for one of the largest distribution clusters of the brown bear in Europe.
Free the Bears (FTB) has constructed a brand new, 60-acre wildlife sanctuary intended to provide vital support to the government of Laos’ efforts at ending bear bile farming and the illegal trade in threatened species. The Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary will also incorporate a dedicated Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit for orphaned bear cubs. Bears in Mind will finacially assist FTB with the construction of these important units. Bear houses, outdoor enclosures covering 15,000m2 have already been constructed, along with Quarantine facilities and a fully equipped wildlife hospital.
In order to increase capacity for the housing and rearing of rescued bear cubs, FTB will develop a new Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit within the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. This facility will be modeled on the existing Cub Nursery located at FTB Cambodian Bear Sanctuary which has been in operation since 2013. The new facility will offer them the opportunity to receive and raise orphaned bear cubs in a safe and secure location, away from visitors and within the site that will most probably be the bears lifetime home.
Currently no specific facilities exist for the rearing of rescued bear cubs within Laos, meaning that cubs often have to be kept in temporary enclosures or even private homes if they require around-the-clock care. As they grow older, they have to be kept in temporary enclosures within the sanctuary, often in close proximity to adult bears which may harm them should they come into contact with one another. The planned facility will incorporate overnight accommodation for staff, making night-time feeds much easier, a clean and sterile environment for food preparation and daily husbandry of cubs such as weighing or toileting. A humidicrib used for human babies will be incorporated for the tiniest of cubs – essential in Laos where overnight temperatures can drop rapidly. Finally, as cubs grow older and become more independent, tailor-made play pens will allow them to develop their locomotion skills without the risk of harming themselves.
The ICU and cub rehabilitation center was finished in 2021!
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.
During a pilot project in 2012-2013, the research team used remote video cameras to study marking behavior of Andean bears near the Sumaco Biosphere reserve in Ecuador. Besides interesting preliminary results, they identified several key-research needs for the management and conservation of Andean bears.
I) The functional significance of marking behavior of Andean bears remains unclear. II) Local population density estimates are usually unknown. III) Virtually nothing is known about the spatial attributes of marking sites, habitat use related to them, and the role of their spatial distribution in human-bear conflict.
The title of the research project is:
“Marking behavior, population density estimates, and terrain use of Andean bears (Tremarctos ornatus) – generating knowledge for the conservation of a threatened umbrella species”
Here, the team proposes to investigate those three key research-needs using remote camera trapping and GPS mapping of bear sign data and travel networks in two study populations in Ecuador (Province Napo, Province Zamora Chinchipe) between 2016-2020. In addition, they aim to establish a biological sample database with Andean bear faecal and hair samples. Such databases have become extremely important for both local and large-scaled research purposes (e.g., population genetic research, stable isotope analyses, landscape genetics), and stimulate collaborations between different research groups. Advancing our general knowledge of the general ecology of Andean bears is crucial for the effective conservation and management of the species, as well as for species associated with them.
Andean Bear Conservation Ecuador
Research in Hormozgan In 2009, a project was initiated in cooperation with the Ministry of DoE in the province of Hormozgan, Iran – to map the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) population and to find out what the main threats to the population were. This was achieved by using camera traps and through interviews with people living in the area. Analysis of the images made an estimation of the size and distribution of the population possible. From the interviews it appeared that the distribution area is larger than researchers first assumed, as local people had also spotted bears in neighbouring areas. It also became clear that the number of human-bear conflicts in the area was considerable.
The researchers now have distribution maps of the bears, they know where many human-bear conflicts take place and have more information about the bear’s ecology and what threatens the species’ existence. This formed a solid basis for the next project which will take a further 10 years to complete! Bashagard has been selected as the pilot study area. In this area there are many bears and many human-bear conflicts and the living standards of the local human population is quite low.
Together with the local people Following analysis of the social, economic and cultural status of the local people, an action plan has been put together in cooperation with various Ministries including the Ministry of Agriculture, the Environment, Education, Culture and Tourism. The objective of the plan is to protect the Asian black bear together with the local people of Bashagard, who will then be able to support their own existence!
Bears in Mind supported the initial years of the project, during which further research into the ecology, biology and distribution in the black bear population will be conducted. This will be done through camera trap images, scats, scrapes and looking for winter dens. In order to reduce human-bear conflict, an experiment was done which allowed local people to buy insurance against any damage done by bears to either lifestock or crops. In addition, an indepth educational programme has been established, which focuses mainly on the role of the bear within the ecosystem and on the possibility that people can coexist with bears. People also learned about overgrazing, erosion, setting up small businesses and establishing a nature area in which they themselves play an important role and which also secures their livelihood.
Asiatic Black Bear Project / Earth’s Whisper
In East Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sun bear habitat is rapidly shrinking due to forest conversion and fires for palm oil monoculture development. As a result of this Sun bears are now commonly held as pets and conflict with humans occurs when bears enter communities or feed on crops. Despite this, the Balikpapan municipality decided in 2001 to make the Sun bear its mascot. This has led to a better protection of the last bit of primal forest where bears live (the Sungai Wain forest), and a heightened awareness among the locals. The sanctuary is surrounded by an elevated bridge. From this bridge visitors can see the bears play, climb, and dig. Local guides are trained to give visitors information.
Bears in Mind has funded the construction of the center, development and printing of a number of awareness materials like design and production of a new sun bear activity booklet, re-printing of Sun Bear booklet for distribution among visitors, production of variety of Sun bear promotional materials and improved visitor education through guide training.
Currently, 2024, Bears in Mind has committed itself to the much needed repairs / maintenance to visitor boardwalk, the Sun bear holding area and the Sun bear enclosure.
Threats to the sun bear Visitors at the KWPLH Education Centre can access information through painted panels, paintings, bear statues, information panels and interactive displays. All the education material is being made by local artists. Local goverment has been very positive since the start of the project, and they contribute in the daily management costs. The Sun bear or Malayan bear is a protected species in Indonesia, but law enforcement is not very strict. Because large parts of the forest are still turned into plantations or cut down for agriculture, many bears loose their habitat. In search for food they sometimes come too close to human settements. Cubs are taken from the wild and are often kept as a pet, until they grow too large (and dangerous) to maintain and end their life in misery in a small cage or are sold for meat or other parts.