IBF has been active in Georgia from 2004-2009. The problem at that time, and still today, is the presence of bears in cages near restaurants, petrol stations and other sites. The owners think they can attract more visitors to their sites and thus earn more money. These bears are locked up in small steel bar cages, treated badly, do not receive sufficient and appropriate food every day, etc.. The clients are attracted by the bears that are often close to the entrances of the facilities, customers often buy “food” like chips and leftovers from the restaurants kitchens for the bears, which is of course completely inappropriate food! At night time. Being thirsty the bears are forced to drink beer and wine. These bears suffer incredibly, become very stressed and die eventually at early ages.
Where do these bears come from?
Mostly these bears are “harvested” by poachers and unauthorised hunting parties. Mother bear is killed and the 2-3 offspring are taken home to be sold. Our foundation has addressed these activities in Georgia, both in the media at various ministries and animal welfare associations. After years of meetings, discussions and even debates, and many visits and disappointments, we could open a small facility for 8 bears in a corner in the Tbilisi Zoo. After the opening ceremony of this small but appropriate facility, everything went wrong. The Georgian counterpart, the zoo management, took over the controlling role and did not work anymore on the agreed principles both on the number of bears and the daily management of the bears. This resulted in fights between large and smaller bears and deadly casualties were noted. It was obvious that International Bear Foundation could not be responsible for this management, ignoring all advice and help from the Georgian side. We still have no idea whatsoever why contacts were broken.
Nevertheless the activities in 2008 have been the start of a new approach. The opening ceremony was broadcasted on national TV and due to this announcement the zoo was offered more bears, as it was said that keeping bears in captivity without an official licence was forbidden and one could be persecuted. All other available cages in the zoo were filled up with bears, as they did not want to refuse any offered bears. The “over population” asked for actions. Due to the fact that we ended our cooperation, we were not longer in the position to help. The Georgian platform we built up since 2004 (e.g. ministries, zoo, city of Tbilisi) did not do anything, blaming the financial crises, although our Foundation donated all fencing materials to create another 3-4 ha bear sanctuary, that could have been built within the premises of the zoo. Since several years there is hardly any contact, although we try to send some relevant information on bear management and how to deal with several casualties. We received some information that the numbers of cage bears has been reduced in the last years. The big question is: how did they disappear, just dying due to bad management or even being killed and eaten? Our Foundation as always and elsewhere is still willing to advice the Georgians. Not only about the captive bears as these are just a “product” of bad management of forests and protected areas, but how to set up procedures, management plans and law enforcement projects to secure the bear’s habitat? Appropriate requests will be judged.