How Bears live in Shelters in Synevyr, Domazhyr and near Zhytomyr

Bears are considered wild animals, predators, but it is people who are wild and cruel to them. Those who have to take care of animals or, at least, not to interfere or harm, become their tormentors. They keep them at restaurants and circuses as entertainment, but this is ridiculous to laugh at a frail and sick bear which looks in people eyes with a doomed look. Chains, sticks, a narrow cage, bitten tails and paws – these are the realities of the existence of the bears which are not lucky enough to be in the civilized world.

How bears are rescued in Ukraine?

Bear shelters have become a real salvation for bears. International funds, environmental activists, animal protection organizations help to open them in Ukraine. Now the animals, released from captivity, live in proper conditions, and you can see them on our tours Lake Synevyr and the Shypit Waterfall, Eco-tour to Roztochchia and Around the Carpathians in 7 Days.

Bears have simulators, toys, lakes for swimming, in which they throw fish so that bears could remember their instincts.
Bears have simulators, toys, lakes for swimming, in which fish is thrown so that the animals could remember their instincts.

In Ukraine, there are bear shelters near Zhytomyr, Synevyr in Transcarpathia and Domazhyr not far from Lviv.

But even when there are places for bears, sometimes they spend months or even years of negotiations with the owners, so that they voluntarily give the animals to ecologists. Neither court decisions, nor even the money that ecologists are willing to pay for the animal, do not affect the cruel owners.

Bears, one of the largest predators, are so “broken” that when they are rescued from captivity, they do not come out of the sleeping enclosures for a long time, except at night when there are no people nearby. Some of them shake or negatively nod their heads. Long months of rehabilitation at the shelter, patience and care of caretakers and veterinarians – and the animals gradually begin to live indeed, some of them in their 12th or almost 30th year of existence in a narrow cage.

It takes some animals a long time to adapt and get used to a spacious area where they are allowed to walk.
It takes some animals a long time to adapt and get used to a spacious area where they are allowed to walk.

The construction of the  first shelter for bears in the National Natural Park SYNEVYR began in 2011 with the support of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine.  Now there live 25 bears on 12 hectares. They have a large area for walking, physical activities and entertainment as well as lakes for swimming, artificial dens and even berry plantations. Animals breathe the clean mountain air. You can also admire it visiting the tour Lake Synevyr and the waterfall Shypit.

Працівники притулку цікаво розповідають історії та особливості своїх вихованців
The shelter employees tell fascinating stories about the bears and their and features.

Many of the animals come to life slowly, and it takes a lot of time and effort. For example, Ira lived in a cage with a floor made of metal rods. She can’t walk well. A circus bear Benia used to dance on a hot iron, and they rescued Potap from Lugansk sports club, where they set dogs on him. 

Animals’ skills can tell a lot about their past: circus bears easily stand on their hind legs and wave their forelegs. They know how to grin their teeth and swing a 300-pound body like in a dance.

Деяких навичок ведмедів навчили в неволі, та зараз вони це роблять не з примусу, а за власним бажанням
Some bears trained their skills in captivity, and now they do it not under duress, but at own will.

In the shelter, bears live in peace, in their natural habitat and can gain the necessary weight. Every year more and more of them hibernate, which is a good sign of their psychological condition getting better.

Moreover, cubs were born in the Synevyr shelter last year. In the spring of 2017, Vinnie and Masha became parents. People came from everywhere to look at the newborn twins. The bear Bubochka also gave life to a baby cub. A shelter employee told us secretly that actually, they sterilize all the bears. The fact that some of them skipped this procedure is veterinarians’ guilt, and their managers were not very happy about it. Bears are not allowed to reproduce, because there is not enough space in shelters – in Ukraine, there more than 200 bears in captivity, which should be released and placed in normal “human” or “bear” life conditions.

Малята скоро ростуть, їх вже майже не відрізнити від дорослих тварин
The cubs grow fast, they are almost indistinguishable from adult animals.

The international environmental Fund “Four paws” gave hope for the club-footed animals living in captivity in Ukraine. With their assistance, in 2012, a Center for bear salvation “Nadiia” was created in the village of Berezivka near Zhytomyr. They kept about five animals there, but they are planning to transfer most of the rescued bears (or have already done it) for permanent residence in the newly created Domazhyr near Lviv – now Four Paws supports it. And Zhytomyr bear shelter changed its name into “BILA SKELIA”, and it works at the assistance of Save Wild Fund.

Оля – сліпа мешканка житомирського притулку, колишня циркова ведмедиця (Фото притулку «Біла скеля»)
Olya – a blind resident of the Zhytomyr shelter, a former circus bear (Photo by the shelter “Bila Skelia”).

DOMAZHYR shelter was opened in Lviv region in October 2017. Gradually, it is inhabited by new tenants which they not without hassle managed to rescue from the circuses, the narrow cages at the restaurants and dog training stations. Now, they house seven bears, and each bear has its apartment. Some of them, who have already been rehabilitated and adapted, moved to large enclosures with an area of 1.5 hectares, where they created the conditions similar to bears’ natural habitat. They are planning to equip new places on another 12 hectares.

Після непростого життя тепер вже Потап може усміхатися
After a hard life, Potap can smile again.

Potap is one of the first residents of Domazhyr. He is nine years old and was born in a zoo. Later he was sold to a restaurant where he entertained visitors. By a happy coincidence, the restaurant was closed, and Potap was taken to the shelter. At the beginning of his work, a venerable male used to sit at the entrance of the front enclosure and look curiously at visitors. He can pose, even smile, and stand on his hind legs. Now he was moved to a large “suite” with an area of 1.5 hectares, where he can feel like in the forest. Here he has a large walking area and his separate den. They say that Potap is actively exploring the place.

It is Khrystia – a funny fluffy Tien Shan bear with sad eyes. One of the oldest in the shelter, she is about 30 years old. She worked in a travelling circus and moved from place to place. Once, they spotted her in Zhovkva. The animal was led on a leash like a dog to advertise a circus where she performed.

Activists and environmentalists raised the alarm at all possible institutions and managed to take Christia away from the cruel people.

Ведмедиця Христя
The female bear Chrystia.

The collar to the wounds dug into her neck, and the claws grew so big that when the bear began to walk freely, it was painful for her to move. In the natural habitat, bears walk, run, climb trees, and their claws wear away themselves. When bears don’t move enough and stay in cages, they grow too big. Therefore, Chrystia had to have a pedicure under anaesthesia. And veterinarians diagnosed her with cirrhosis. The animal might have been given alcohol in the circus. Now Chrystia enjoys swimming in the pond, working out and eating watermelons.

Chrystia likes sports.
Chrystia likes sports.

Bears from hunting dog training stations are in the worst psychological state. During all their life, the bears stayed in a tight cage, and when they came out, they set dogs on them to train for hunting.

Tyson is one of these unlucky bears. At the beginning of the shelter’s work, it was the most difficult to spot. The animal hid and avoided people. After a while, the bear started to come out. Only there, in the bear “boarding house”, after a 16-year life between dog fangs, he starts exploring nature, studying plants, sniffing. After a  long-term rehabilitation, Tyson discovered simulators and toys, which were built for him in the enclosure; he began to run, play and swim.

Тайсон вчиться бавитися
Tyson is learning to play.

Nastia and Bodia are colleagues from Zhytomyr, who grew up together, so they were placed in Domazhyr in one enclosure. It is fascinating to watch them when they play with each other. Bodea, as befits the male, is more active and sometimes likes to “fall the trees”, and Nastunia sometimes destroys things, too. 

Повалені сосни – то Бодіних лап робота
The fallen pine-trees are Budia’s paws’ work.

Why shelters are the best option for rescued bears?

It is worth noting that those animals that were born or kept for many years in captivity will not be able to survive in the forest. They don’t have the necessary skills. That’s why the people who care about them in the shelter, create for them the most comfortable conditions similar to those in which they should have grown up and lived. This is like a shelter for the elderly, but bears.

The food for each bear is prepared separately according to their health and needs. While the animal is closed, the keeper scatters the foods in the area and hides it so that the bears were able to track it down on the smell, “get” the food themselves.

Winters in Ukraine are warm, and bears do not want to hibernate. They actively explore their enclosures and play with toys.

In Domazhyr, in addition to the “bear” tours, they promise to arrange the theatrical ones, which will provide all the crucial information about the protection of nature in an accessible and fascinating way. 

Domazhyr is near Yavoriv National Nature Park. Here, you can stroll along eco-paths, study the recreation and tourism routes, observe the other animals that inhabit the Park. Nearby is Ivano-Frankove, where they teach to make authentic Yaviriv toys.

You can combine all these entertainments in a single tour Eco-tour to Roztochchia from the tour operator Vidvidai. And if you enjoy long journeys and the harmony of the Carpathians, you can visit Synevyr brown bears during the tour Around the Carpathians in 7 Days.

* * *

In Ukraine, about 200 bears live in the wild and the same number – in captivity. Brown bear is an endangered species listed in the Red book of Ukraine. Although bears themselves are wild predators by nature, they have suffered a lot from people’s cruelty. So if you decided to look at bears, do not look for them in circuses or zoos, come to bear shelters, where they live almost like at their natural habitat.

Реабілітаційний центр Бурого ведмедя
Brown bear rehabilitation centre

Orisia Shiyan
Photo by the author

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