Bear Martha is being rescued from a closed restaurant

Brown bear rescued after 17 years of abuse as circus and restaurant attraction in Ukraine

FOUR PAWS calls for strictly enforced animal protection laws


August 31 2021 –Yesterday in Western Ukraine, a 17-year-old female brown bear named Martha was rescued by FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organization. FOUR PAWS had transferred Martha from the rundown restaurant where she was kept near Stryi, to BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr near Lviv where she will be provided a species appropriate home and expert wildlife care for the rest of her life.

Martha had spent over a decade and half in captivity used as an attraction for tourists. She was born in captivity and forced to perform in a circus until 2008. Afterwards the restaurant owners purchased her and kept her as an attraction for guests. An estimated 80 bears still suffer in private captivity in small cages next to restaurants, in circuses or backyards in the Ukraine, despite the government’s plans to ban the use of certain wild animal species, including bears and big cats, for most entertainment purposes except circuses from November onwards.

FOUR PAWS welcomes the decision of the Ukrainian government to amend its law on the protection of animals from cruelty to end the exploitation of certain species for entertainment purposes. However, much work is left to be done as long as animals are not properly registered, breeding is uncontrolled and the use of wild animals in the circus remains legal.

In a one-day rescue mission, the FOUR PAWS team picked up bear Martha at the restaurant site and brought her to her new home. Once she settles in at BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr, a thorough health check will determine her future care. Her former owners kept Martha in a small concrete enclosure, with a lack of enrichment and a dry pool proving a sad sight.

“Martha had nothing to play with and no opportunity to roam, swim or hibernate. She was incredibly bored and started biting the cage bars, resulting in dental damage, along with the sugary foods she received.” 

-Barbara van Genne, responsible for Wild Animal Rescue & Advocacy at FOUR PAWS

The owners treated Martha like a pet and even entered her cage for cuddles. “Bears are dangerous wild animals with species-specific needs and instincts they can never live out in captivity and when treated like cuddly pets or presented as attractions. It only adds to their suffering. Martha will now be able to live a bear-appropriate life for the first time since she was born,” says Van Genne.

Ukraine sets major milestone towards better wild animal welfare

Despite the positive step towards better wild animal welfare in the country, FOUR PAWS urges the Ukrainian authorities to enforce the legislative changes sustainably to effectively reduce animal suffering.

“It is still unclear how the law will be enforced for bears kept in private residences, but we estimate that the keeping of at least 30 bears in the country will become illegal once the new law is in place. The government must make sure these bears find species-appropriate new homes well enough in advance. Additionally, we prompt the responsible authorities to officially register all respective bears and facilities to prevent the bears from being killed or traded, and must introduce measures to keep the bears from reproducing and the number of illegal bears from rising,” says Taras Boiko, Director at FOUR PAWS Ukraine. FOUR PAWS is offering to support the Ukrainian government with the gradual phasing out of the illegal keepings.

29 rescued bears at Ukrainian sanctuary

BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr was officially opened for visitors in October 2017. Including new arrival Martha, 29 bears rescued from catastrophic keeping conditions now live on the 19 acres. With the construction of BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr, FOUR PAWS has created a species-appropriate home for rescued bears, originally supporting the Ukrainian government with enforcing the ban on cruel practice of bear baiting in the country. For this purpose, bears are being chained and abused as bait objects for the training of hunting dogs. Now, the bear sanctuary also provides a home for individual animals rescued from other cruel forms of bear keeping as well.           

Learn more about BEAR SANCTUARY Domazhyr

Brown bear Martha in her former cage

For this bear The ordeal is finally over!

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need, and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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