Bear ne­ces­sity

When staff at York­shire Wildlife Park heard of four rare Us­suri brown bears kept in cages at a Ja­panese mu­seum, they be­gan an epic jour­ney to give them a new home

World of Animals - - What’s Inside... - Words Vic­to­ria Wil­liams

We speak to York­shire Wildlife Park about their mis­sion to save four bears from a Ja­panese Mu­seum and give them a new home over 5,000 miles away in Eng­land

A small cage and a con­crete floor; this was all that four Us­suri brown bears had known be­fore they were res­cued and brought to York­shire Wildlife Park (YWP). Kept in an ex­hibit at a cul­tural mu­seum on Ja­pan’s north­ern­most is­land, the bears had lived in these cramped con­di­tions – mea­sur­ing just 1.8 by 2.7 me­tres (5.9 by 8.9 feet) – since they were taken from the wild as cubs. Two of the bears were 17 and the oth­ers were 27 – Us­suri brown bears have a life­span of about 35 years, and the mu­seum lacked the ex­pe­ri­ence and re­sources to prop­erly care for them.

Alarmed vis­i­tors alerted UK char­ity Wild Wel­fare to the liv­ing con­di­tions of the bears, and the mu­seum an­nounced it wanted the bears to be re-homed. Ge­or­gia Groves, Wild Wel­fare’s project di­rec­tor, ex­plains how their jour­ney to Eng­land be­gan.

“The Ainu Mu­seum bears came to our at­ten­tion a few years ago, and [we worked] closely with Ja­panese an­i­mal wel­fare NGOs and zoo ex­perts to try to find a more suit­able home for them.”

No zoos or sanc­tu­ar­ies in Ja­pan had the space or fa­cil­i­ties to re-home the age­ing bears, so the search was widened. YWP was cho­sen as their new home be­cause of its ex­pe­ri­ence in con­ser­va­tion of at-risk species and re­hom­ing an­i­mals in need. John Min­ion, CEO of YWP, ex­plains why they stepped in.

“We are for­tu­nate we have the space, skills and ex­pe­ri­ence to re-home these bears, who will re­quire spe­cial­ist care, and it is great to wel­come them to York­shire. We are grate­ful to the Ainu Mu­seum for re­leas­ing the bears to us where we will be able to give them a se­cure fu­ture.”

Trans­port­ing four large bears 8,700 kilo­me­tres (5,405 miles) from Ja­pan to Eng­land was no easy task, so weeks were spent plan­ning the lo­gis­tics of the jour­ney. The safety of the bears and the peo­ple in­volved was para­mount. With a plan mapped out, staff from YWP trav­elled to Ja­pan and, with help from lo­cal ex­perts, loaded the bears into spe­cially con­structed crates. Hav­ing spent most of their lives in cages, it took seven hours and the temp­ta­tion of food be­fore all four were ready to leave.

Deb­bie Porter, YWP an­i­mal man­ager, re­mem­bers the emo­tion of that morn­ing. “The 27-year-old fe­male, Hanako, was very play­ful when we were load­ing her – at one

“It was a very emo­tional day. Every­body was re­ally pleased to take part in some­thing so big”

point she tried to grab a hose pipe; she was very cu­ri­ous about what was go­ing on. She is very sassy and ex­tremely bright.

“Once we had fin­ished [load­ing] it was un­be­liev­able – I ac­tu­ally took a photo of the empty cages be­cause you think for 27 years they have been in that tiny caging. It was a very emo­tional day. Every­body was re­ally pleased to take part in some­thing so big. It had a re­ally lovely feel to it.”

Once they’d set­tled in their crates, the bears were loaded onto a tem­per­a­ture­con­trolled lorry and the group drove to the air­port for the long­est leg of the jour­ney. To make sure they were safe and well, sev­eral vets trav­elled with them. Af­ter be­com­ing some of the most un­usual pas­sen­gers to ar­rive at Lon­don Heathrow, the bears were checked over and pre­pared for a sec­ond road trip. Al­most two days af­ter they’d left the con­fines of their cages, they ar­rived at their new home on 3 Au­gust 2018.

Staff mem­bers at the park were wait­ing to wel­come the new res­i­dents. The crates were un­loaded and set down care­fully against the house in the park’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion re­serve, and staff then waited to see who would emerge first. “One by one the slides were lifted and the bears took their first steps into their new home. Hanako was the first to leave her crate – paw­ing at the floor as the crate was locked into po­si­tion, it was al­most as if she knew she was home. She was quickly out, dived straight into her food,

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