Three brown bears held captive in shocking conditions in Armenia were freed recently as part of The Great Bear Rescue, a project by International Animal Rescue (IAR) and a local group called Federation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC). The bears were rescued from separate locations across Armenia, a landlocked Eurasian country bordering Turkey, Georgia, Azerbijan and Iran.

The first bear rescued was a three-year old male who was kept in a rusty cage in a dark warehouse in Aparan. Second to be freed was a ten-year-old female who had spent her entire life in captivity in a restaurant. Due to a life-long inadequate diet, she is very overweight and has barely any teeth left. Rescuers are now feeding her a nutritious diet of soft, chopped fruit and vegetables. The third bear rescued was a female held at a restaurant in Gyumri, who was exhibiting stereotypical stress pacing behaviour when the team came to set her free.

Now in quarantine at the Yerevan zoo, the bears are receiving expert veterinary care, and their physical and mental conditions are being monitored carefully while their rescuers arrange a better future for them.

The bears are all Syrian Brown Bears (Ursus arctos syriacus), who live wild in the more mountainous regions of the country. Poachers illegally catch about 150 of these bears annually. The majority of these bears wind up being used as public entertainment or tourist attractions, trapped in tiny, bare cages in restaurants, and spend their lives in misery behind bars.

IAR launched The Great Bear Rescue in October 2017, with the support of the Armenian government, to save these suffering bears by releasing those that can be rehabilitated and provide a lifelong home in sanctuaries for those that cannot.

Ruben Khachatryan of FPWC stated: “there are many other bears in urgent need of our attention. We are keeping focused on the job in hand and trying to reach as many caged bears as possible, as fast as we possibly can.”

The coordination of vital rescue work of bears kept behind bars – whether for entertainment like these three bears or for bile farming – is made possible by the growing global awareness of and refusal to accept these cruel practices. As the world learns the truth about the cruelty, they are no longer willing to tolerate the torture of these majestic animals for profit.