Successful Return to the Wild: in Altai, Three Orphan-Bears Released in Natural Habitat

Медвежата Мишка и Машка. Фото: Роман Воробьёв
Медвежата Мишка и Машка. Фото: Роман Воробьёв

Three bear cubs were returned to their natural habitat by the specialists of the Altai Reserve.

In May 2021, citizens turned there with a request to accept two bear cubs for keeping – Mishka and Mashka. Later, they were joined by another bear cub – Tyopa.

When the cubs were brought to the reserve, they were underweight, almost not afraid of people, suffered from parasites and were absolutely not ready for an independent life. It was necessary not only to raise the cubs, but to get them to become wild animals with a natural fear of humans in the end.

The staff of the reserve immediately contacted the Orphan Bear Rescue Centre in Tver Oblast. Its creator, Valentin Pazhetnov, has developed a unique technique that allows nursing orphaned cubs and returning them to their natural habitats. Two employees of the center flew to Altai – Vasily Pazhetnov and Vyacheslav Naumov. They helped build a special enclosure and advised Altai colleagues on the rehabilitation of the bear cubs.


Такими медвежата были ещё три месяца назад. Фото: Юрий Калинкин
Такими медвежата были ещё три месяца назад. Фото: Юрий Калинкин

Painstaking work went on all summer. According to a researcher at the reserve, Roman Vorobyov, in the last month and a half, in addition to an obvious increase in weight and size, the cubs displayed behavioral traits characteristic of bears in the wild. In addition, traces of aggression between cubs of different litters have completely disappeared.

By September, the wards of the shelter had noticeably recovered, became much stronger and could already pose a potential danger when the specialists tried catching them in the enclosure. Experts stated that in terms of their behavior and temperament, the cubs had already become real wild animals, and they could be released into their natural habitat.

For the release of the cubs, the shore of Lake Teletskoye, remote from settlements and ranger stations, was chosen. There, the adult specimens were not spotted during this season, and the possibility of meeting people was excluded. The prerequisites for the survival of the cubs are good physical condition confirmed by veterinarians, correct behavioral reactions (with any suspicion of danger to quickly climb trees) and a complete ban on hunting in the reserve. In addition, a network of camera traps has been deployed at the place where the cubs were released, which will allow not to lose sight of the "migrants".

The staff of the reserve pursued not only humane, but also scientific research goals.

“The bear population in the Altai Nature Reserve is not under threat, and sometimes there are conflicts between humans and predators,” says Roman Vorobyov. “This is why learning about the behaviors that can prevent unwanted incidents cannot be underestimated. The humans are mainly at fault for the cubs being left without mothers. They, at best, are doomed to a life in circuses and zoos."

According to the employees of the Altai Reserve, they quite often encounter a situation when citizens ask to shelter bears that have come to people for various reasons. A full-fledged shelter, modeled after Pazhetnov’s Centre, where 260 bears have been returned to their habitats in over 26 years of work, could help in such a situation. The current experience of returning three cubs to nature may become the beginning of the history of a new rehabilitation center for bear cubs – now in the Altai Nature Reserve.