Bear cubs exploited for selfies and petting interactions rescued in Ukraine

Bear cubs exploited for selfies and petting interactions rescued in Ukraine

FOUR PAWS transfers three six-month-old brown bear cubs to its bear sanctuary 


7 July 2021 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has transferred three brown bear cubs, to its BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr near Lviv in Ukraine on 6 July. Yasnogorodka Contact Zoo originally purchased the cubs to market them as glorified photo props for use in selfies. They were also exploited for human interactions before the rescue. After much criticism from animal welfare activists, in May 2021 the zoo owners handed over five bear cubs to local NGO Save Wild Fund that runs White Rock Bear Shelter near Kiev. But, due to limited space at the sanctuary, FOUR PAWS offered to take three of the bear cubs into its care. Shockingly the private keeping of bears remains legal in Ukraine and an estimated 100 bears still suffer in cruel keeping conditions or for human entertainment. FOUR PAWS urges the Ukrainian authorities to ban the private breeding and keeping of bears in the country.

All three rescued bear cubs, two males and one female born in January 2021, are in good health and coped well on the 570-kilometre journey from White Rock Bear Shelter to BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr, run by FOUR PAWS. Earlier last month FOUR PAWS rescued two brown bears and their offspring, five-month-old Andor in Ukraine. Andor cannot be reunited with his parents for safety reasons but is planned to be socialised with the three new arrivals after an adjustment phase. 

“These bear cubs were raised in captivity and are used to humans, so sadly they can never be released into the wild. Instead, they will find a life-long, species-appropriate home in our care with companions of the same age. They will grow up roaming, playing, and swimming like bears should. Had they stayed at the zoo, it is likely the owners would have tried to get rid of them again after a season, once they got too big for their exploitation business. We assume that they might have sold the bear cubs to other private keepers, or even to hunting stations, where bears are abused to train hunting dogs,” 

says Ihor Nykolyn, site manager of BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr.

Ukraine must restrict the breeding and private keeping of bears

According to Ukrainian laws it is legal to keep bears in public zoos and sanctuaries, but also in private keeping, provided the bears have not been caught in the wild but come from breeding or have been purchased or rescued. Since 2020 Ukraine has improved the keeping requirements for bears, however, private keeping is rarely ever species-appropriate. “Around 100 bears still live in private keeping in small cages or in private zoos and contact zoos that allow interactions with animals in Ukraine. We urge the responsible Ukrainian authorities to ban the private breeding of wild animals and only issue keeping licenses for official sites like sanctuaries with qualified staff and the required resources that do not exploit the animals,” says Taras Boiko, Director at FOUR PAWS Ukraine.

28 rescued bears at Ukrainian sanctuary

FOUR PAWS officially opened BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr for visitors in October 2017. Including the new arrivals, 28 bears rescued from catastrophic keeping conditions now live on the 15-hectare site. With the construction of BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr, FOUR PAWS has created a species-appropriate home for rescued bears, supporting the Ukrainian government with enforcing the ban on cruel practice of bear baiting in the country. For this purpose, bears are chained and abused as bait objects for the training of hunting dogs. The bear sanctuary also provides a home for individual animals rescued from other cruel forms of bear keeping as well.


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Michael Kellner

Michael Kellner

PR International Officer

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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