Three orphaned bear cubs have been released into the wild in Russia's Far East. Their mother was killed by hunters before an animal rescue centre found the cubs and took them in.
The three female Himalayan bear are cubs getting their first taste of freedom.
For the past year the cubs have been cared for at the Utyos wild animal rescue centre near Khabarovsk.
Himalayan bears are good climbers and spend most of their time up trees. They even hibernate in trees during the winter, making them an easy target for poachers.
Vasily Solkin from the Pacific Geographical Institute says the law favours the hunters.
“In Russia it's legal to hunt Himalayan bears who have their dens in tree hollows. You just need to knock on the tree trunk with an axe and the bear will come out. The hunter shoots the mother only to find out if there are cubs in the den. They bring the cubs home and later don't know what to do with them. Their logic is that it is permissible to kill the mother bear but not the cubs as everyone loves them. As a result they end up here in Utyos,” Solkin said.
Living and dead bears are smuggled across the border to China where the skin, paws and bile are in high demand.
Researchers at the Utyos rescue centre say the trade is a serious threat to the bear population.
Yana Panova from the Utyos research centre said: “It is the poachers who kill the mothers. It is very rare that bear cubs become orphans as a result of forest fires or by being abandoned by their mothers or their mothers' dying naturally”.
The centre is urging hunters to have more respect for bears and to leave those which are hibernating in peace. Otherwise the lives of cubs could also be put in danger.
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