Award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park is at the centre of a project to rehome the four Ussuri brown bears who live in tiny metal cages all year round.
Four rare bears are to be rescued from a life of misery in a run-down museum in Japan – and moved to Doncaster.
Award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park is at the centre of a project to rehome the four Ussuri brown bears who live in tiny metal cages all year round – even when it snows in the depths of winter.
Staff from the UK zoo will travel across the world to bring them 5,400 miles to their new home.
The park, at Branton, near Doncaster, was chosen because of its global reputation for animal welfare and conservation of at-risk species and for its support for rehoming animals.
Ussuri brown bears are currently classed on international wildlife lists as “vulnerable” due to habitat loss, illegal hunting and poaching for body parts and skins.
Ussuris were once widespread in Asia but are now extinct in some areas, with just 10,000 left in Japan.
They weigh up to half a ton and can live as long as 35 years on a wide-ranging diet consisting of everything from nuts, seeds and plants to fish, eggs and smaller mammals.
The four to be rescued are currently being kept at the Ainu Culture Museum on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s islands, which is dedicated to research and preservation of the nation’s heritage.
But the conditions they live in have moved the Yorkshire park’s chief executive officer John Minion to act.
He said: “The museum does not have the experience or resources to look after the bears now, so animal welfare organisations around the world teamed up to find a solution.
“We are fortunate we have the space, animal management skills and experience to rehome these bears that will require specialist care and we are looking forward to welcoming them to Yorkshire.
“We are grateful to the Ainu Museum for releasing the bears to us here, where we will be able to give them a secure and nurturing future.”
The four bears named Riku, Kai, Hanako and Amu will be closely monitored along their route and will travel with a veterinary team.
They will be the first residents in a new rehabilitation centre at the park, which already boasts over 300 animals from 60 species including polar bears, lions, tigers and rhinos.
The Park has put out a DIY appeal to firms and tradespeople to help kit out the reserve with rocks, trees, platforms and other features to recreate the bears’ natural environment.
And it will soon be announcing a Volunteers Day to help get everything ready for the four new arrivals.
The Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation has been working to secure the move along with other agencies including UK charity Wild Welfare, which is committed to improving welfare standards in captive wild animal facilities.
Wild Welfare projects director Georgina Groves said: “The Ainu Museum bears came to our attention a few years ago and we’ve been working closely with the museum, Japanese animal welfare organisations and zoo experts since to try and find a more suitable home.
“Brown bears occupy forest habitats from coastal to mountain regions.
“Concern had been raised about the conditions within which the bears were living but the museum could not make the significant enhancements needed to improve their wellbeing.
“Moving the bears to a facility within Japan that could better accommodate the bears was also explored but currently there is nothing suitable.
“It’s great that these four bears are coming to Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which has a great track record. We know they will provide the bears with a great home where they can receive the rehabilitation, enrichment and life-long care they need.”