Rescued Ussuri Brown Bears celebrate a year at Doncaster's Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Three Ussuri Brown Bears, who became famous last year when they were rescued from Japan by the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, are celebrating their first anniversary at the Doncaster park.

Friday, 2nd August 2019, 12:49 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd August 2019, 12:52 pm
Rescued Ussuri Brown Bears celebrate a year at Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Kai, Riku and Hanako were living in outdated, cramped, 6ft by 9ft cages at a Japanese cultural museum on the island of Hokkaido.The museum did not have the experience or resources to look after the bears and wished to find them a new home, but one could not be found in Japan.

The museum chose the Yorkshire Wildlife Park as the bear’s new home because of the park’s expertise in welfare and rehabilitation, and a meticulously planned operation transferred them 5,400 miles to a purpose-built Rescue and Rehabilitation Reserve at the park.

Their previous cramped and poor conditions meant that the bears came with chronic health problems. They had problems with their teeth, malnourishment, joint and limb problems and they were underweight.

Kai and Riku were treated with joint injections to relieve osteoarthritis, believed to have been caused by lack of activity in their early years. Each of the bears also exhibited behavioural issues from their existence in confined spaces. A team of vets and park staff devised a nutrition and enrichment programme to help them recover their inquisitive nature and allow them to enjoy playing together.

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Animal manager Debbie Porter said: “It was a complex and protracted project to organise their transfer, with a lot of planning. I was lucky to be involved with the project from the very beginning and was out in Japan as we loaded them for their long trip to England - which was a hugely complex operation.”

Riku, Kai and Hanako are now visitor favourites at YWP, adapting to their new environment in spacious reserves at the park with its lake and specifically designed climbing and play equipment.

Riku and Kai are 18-year-old brothers who had lived side by side in separate cages all their lives, until moving to YWP, when they were finally reunited together in the main reserve. The pair have certainly made up for lost time, as playing and swimming together has become part of their daily routine, which has gradually helped the bears to build up their strength and mobility.

Debbie recalled when they first came into contact with each other upon having 17 years living side by side in confinement: “It was really emotional as they greeted each other and immediately played, rolling in the straw and enjoying each other’s company. All those years, inches apart, but not together… it was wonderful to see them and made all the hard work to bring them back to Yorkshire worthwhile.”

28-year-old Hanako, who is much smaller and older than the boisterous boys adapted to life in her special rehabilitation reserve, adjacent to Kai and Riku.

“Hanako is an amazing character,” added Debbie.

“Considering her age, she has adapted so well to life here. We were concerned for her health when she first arrived but with a lot of love, care and attention she has surprised us all with her resilience. She is sassy, smart and knows exactly how to get what she wants! It is unbelievable how well she is now compared to when she arrived.

“I actually took a photo of their empty cages at the Museum once they were loaded for the journey to Yorkshire because it was impossible to think that they had lived like that for so many years. It is great to see them how they are today and celebrate the landmark of their first anniversary at YWP. They are beautiful animals and visitors love seeing them.”

Ussuri Brown bears are also known as the Black Grizzly and can weight up to 550kg, as well as some living up to 35 years old. They are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as they have increased vulnerability due to habitat loss and illegal hunting, for body parts and skin. They live in forests from coastal to mountain regions, but the bears are extinct across parts of Asia and there are only thought to be around 10,000 left in Japan.

The rescue anniversary comes as YWP starts a bumper summer of fun and events at the park, with the ever-popular Safari Nights returning with top live acts on Saturdays throughout August.

The park will have extended opening hours for a stellar line-up, featuring BRIT award-winning star Gabrielle, Britain’s Got Talent winners Rak-Su, S Club 3, and musical theatre group Collabro. The shows kick start this Saturday August 3, with a 90s pop party theme, including S Club 3, who will be joined by Liberty X and American vocalist Janice Robinson.

Superstar Gabrielle headlines on August 10 and is followed up by Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro, leading a Best of the West End musical spectacular on August 17. X Factor winners Rak-Su will be sure to get the park jumping with their hits during the final magical night on August 24.