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Bear with Me

Preparing bear cubs for the perils of the wild

When human activity causes bear cubs to be separated from, or abandoned by their mothers, they have no chance of surviving unless people intervene. Russia's Orphan Bear Rescue Centre has been established to save and nurture orphaned bear cubs. The centre is a part of a larger organisation – the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) that rescues and protects animals worldwide.

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The OBRC was started as an experiment by a couple of biologists, Valentin and Svetlana Pazhetnov, in the mid-nineties and has developed into an internationally-recognised centre that is now run by three generations of the Pazhetnov family. In the years that the centre has existed, its specialists have developed and perfected a method that allows cubs to stay wild. Even though they are raised by people, the techniques employed at the centre mean bears do not become domesticated or comfortable around humans.

Related: The most bear-friendly nature reserve in Russia

At first, bear cubs require around the clock care, and it’s very important that the centre specialists avoid bonding with them. As soon as baby bears are old enough, they are transferred to a large natural enclosure where they are able to learn about the forest in a safe environment. They develop and acquire new skills in the same way that bears mature in the wild. Cubs socialise with each other and explore their surroundings, while their human carers take a step back, becoming as inconspicuous as possible. The process of preparing a cub to be released back into the wild is a gradual one, and the time it takes varies from bear to bear.

To date, over 200 bears have been rehabilitated and returned to the wild by the Rescue center. The centre is now considered a world leader in bear rehabilitation, and its successful techniques are being adopted by bear rehabilitation projects around the world.