War-traumatized Ukrainian bear to be adopted by Scottish zoo

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An Asiatic black bear, which endured severe trauma in a zoo in Russian-occupied Ukraine, is set to be adopted by a zoo in Scotland.

In October 2022, according to posts on a Ukrainian rescue center’s social media, Ukrainian soldiers entered the abandoned zoo in the village of Yampil, Donetsk, which had been under Russian occupation. They found that almost all of the 200 animals at the zoo had been killed.

A 12-year-old bear was one of the few left alive. He, too, was badly injured – he had been concussed when a shell had exploded near his cage and was just days away from dying, according to a statement released by the Five Sisters Zoo in Scotland.

Now, Yampil – named after the village where he was found – will get a new start in life as he is set to be adopted by the Scottish zoo, after a rescue operation that has so far taken him across the European continent from Ukraine to Poland to Belgium.

He will head to his new home, 20 miles west of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, early next year.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has displaced and killed animals as well as people, as refugees have been forced to leave behind their pets while fleeing, and it has become near impossible to care for animals in zoos.

Speaking on a videocall from outside Yampil’s enclosure at the Natuurhulpcentrum wildlife-rescue charity in northeastern Belgium, he said: “There are many species like the Asiatic black bear who are really intelligent.”

Animals, like people, can suffer long-term consequences from trauma, and require specialist care. On Monday, Pizzi and the zoo’s head carnivore keeper, Gary Curran, visited Yampil at the center, where he is getting the chance to “de-stress” and being monitored for any health problems.

“We want to make sure that what we build for him as a sanctuary enclosure in…Scotland is going to meet his needs and they’ll be specific to him, depending on what trauma he’s gone through and what maladaptive behaviors he may have developed in that time,” Pizzi adds.

The zoo, which has rescued bears and other animals in the past but mostly from circuses and roadside restaurants, first heard about Yampil through Natuurhulpcentrum.

The zoo said in a statement that it will require an investment of around £200,000 for Yampil’s new enclosure, and it is inviting people to donate to help it reach this total.

Yampil is a “gentle bear,” Pizzi has observed so far, adding that the staff at the zoo are hopeful that they can give him a good life in Scotland, where he can become “a happy, normal bear.”

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