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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Emergency rescue of three caged bears is carried out in Armenia

Three caged brown bears have been rescued after the restaurant that used them as a tourist attraction was closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The emergency rescue operation was carried out after the restaurant owner claimed he no longer had any use for the bears and couldn’t afford to feed them. The Ashtaraki Dzor is the first of a growing number of restaurants in Armenia that want to get rid of their bears. If they aren’t rescued, they could eventually die of starvation and neglect.

Upon hearing about the three unwanted bears International Animal Rescue (IAR) and our Armenian partners, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC), mounted an emergency rescue operation to save them. The three bears consist of a female bear of 20 years old and her two five year old sons. Their rescue is likely to be followed by many more such mercy missions in the weeks and months ahead.

Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of IAR, said: “We have been campaigning to rescue the bears at the Ashtaraki Dzor restaurant for the past year but the owner refused to hand them over. We even launched a petition which gathered nearly 100,000 signatures, urging him to give them up. The petition was shared by Serj Tankian, lead singer with band System of a Down, who hails from Armenia. Now, finally, the owner’s hand has been forced. The lockdown in Armenia has left restaurants without food or funds to feed their bears and so now the owners are happy for us to take them off their hands.

“Our bear rescue centre is close to capacity but we are making space to accommodate these poor animals while we also work on plans to expand our facilities. Now the bears are in our care, we can at least give them adequate food and any treatment they need to improve their health. Further down the line, once out of quarantine, they will be given freedom to enjoy fresh air and exercise in a natural environment. Their lives can only get better from here on in.”

The rescue operation was carried out with the full support of the Armenian government, the Ministry of Environment and the RA Police who assisted with moving the anaesthetised bears from their cage to the transport crates and onto the lorry that took them to the sanctuary. The restaurant owner was happy to cooperate with the rescue team – which has not always been the case with previous rescue operations.

Head of FPWC Ruben Khachatryan who led the rescue team said: “I’m glad to say that everything went smoothly with the rescue operation. There is always an element of risk when anaesthetising any animal and when you are dealing with three wild bears in a small space, you have to plan everything carefully beforehand – and have a contingency plan in case anything should go wrong. Fortunately, it all went without a hitch. It’s a relief finally to have those bears safely in our care.

“We are extremely grateful to the Armenian government for its support for the Great Bear Rescue campaign and also to the Ministry of Environment and RA Police for their help with the rescue operation.”

Each restaurant owner is now required by the government to put in writing that he will never keep another bear. This means that eventually keeping caged bears will become a thing of the past in Armenia and no more bears will suffer the boredom and frustration of being imprisoned for years behind bars in small barren cages.

Alan Knight concluded: “It’s ironic that this deadly pandemic has produced a positive outcome for the bears. However, we can’t forget that there are still many more living in dreadful conditions. We are only able to help these bears because of the kindness and generosity of our supporters. Now we need public support more than ever so that we can push ahead with the rescue operations and end their misery as quickly as possible.”