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Rescued Syrian brown bears in Lebanon head for US

July 18, 2021

Two bears are being flown to Colorado after being rescued from cramped conditions in a Lebanese zoo. "No animal should have to live in such terrible conditions," an animal rights group has said.

Rescuers carrying a Syrian brown bear
The two Syrian brown bears were kept in small cement cages near the port city of TyreImage: Issam Abdallah/REUTERS

Two endangered Syrian brown bears that had been held in small cement cages for more than a decade in Lebanon will be flown to the United States, where they will then be released into the wild, animal rights association Animals Lebanon said in a statement on Sunday.

The Beirut-based association said the bears, Homer and Ulysses, each aged 18 and weighing 130 kilos (280 pounds), had been living in a private zoo in the village of Hanaway, close to the southern port city of Tyre.

They were freed "after convincing the zoo owner that they deserve better than the small cement cages they were kept in for over 10 years," the group said.

"No animal should have to live in such terrible conditions, without proper food, veterinary care, or housing,'' said Animals Lebanon director Jason Mier.

"For the first time in their life they can actually be bears, with large natural enclosures, and the ability to experience and enjoy their days," he added.

The bears were first driven to Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, where they will be put on a plane to the United Arab Emirates. They will then be flown to Chicago, and driven to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in the state of Colorado.

Animal rescue workers providing a quick medical check for the bears
Animal rescue workers sedated the bears and provided a quick medical check before their journeyImage: Issam Abdallah/REUTERS

Economic and COVID crisis halt relocation

Mier said the bears were likely imported from eastern Europe. The pair had been supposed to travel in late 2019, but banking restrictions connected to Lebanon's economic crisis, then coronavirus restrictions that included the closure of the airport for weeks, had postponed the trip.

People move the crates containing the bears into the back of a truck
The bears were put into large metal transport crates for their relocation to the USImage: Issam Abdallah/REUTERS

Four Paws, an international organization also taking part in the relocation of the two bears, said it had first visited Homer and Ulysses in November 2019.

"Trapped in tiny cages, some smaller than a ping-pong table, the bears had no water, sporadic food, and inadequate shelter from the weather," it said in a statement.

"Both bears not only suffered from malnutrition but also extreme stress."

Syrian brown bears are a small subspecies of the endangered brown bear, but no longer exist in the wild in Syria or Lebanon, according to the UK-based Bear Conservation group.

mvb/sri (AFP, AP)