IAR Rescues A Mother Bear & Her Two Sons That Were Being Exploited As Tourist Attractions In A Restaurant In Armenia

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2010

Three caged brown bears have been rescued after a restaurant in Armenia 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 use bears as tourist attractions and now cannot afford to take care of them during the pandemic.

Upon hearing about the three unwanted bears, International Animal Rescue (IAR) and their Armenian partners, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC), mounted an emergency rescue operation to save the 20-year-old mother and her two five-year-old sons.

“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,” said Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of IAR in a statement. “The petition was shared by Serj Tankian, lead singer of the 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 now the owners are happy for us to take them off their hands.”

“Our bear rescue center is close to capacity but we are making space to accommodate these poor animals while we also work on plans to expand our facilities,” continued Knight. “The bears are now in our care and 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 out.”

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 anesthetized bears from their cage to the transport crates and onto a truck that took them to the sanctuary.

“I am glad to say that everything went smoothly with the rescue operation. There is always an element of risk when anesthetizing 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 is a relief to finally have those bears safely in our care,” said the Head of FPWC Ruben Khachatryan who led the rescue team. “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.”

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

“It is ironic that this deadly pandemic has produced a positive outcome for the bears,” concluded Knight. “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.”

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