Search for two bears in Tallinn halted, animals thought to have moved on

PPA vehicles during Thursday's bear hunt in Tallinn.
PPA vehicles during Thursday's bear hunt in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A search for two bears spotted in the Haabersti district of Tallinn on Thursday has been called off with no result. The two bears, a mother and her cub, were first sighted on a health track near the Open Air Museum (Vabaõhumuuseum) on Thursday morning, sparking an over 12-hour search involving drones, dogs and thermal imaging cameras and drawing on the resources of both the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Rescue Board (Päästeamet). Work started again at around 3.30 a.m. on Friday, but despite their efforts the bears were not located and are thought to have left the area.

"Work continued at 3.30 in the morning, when both drones and dogs were used to search for the two young bears seen yesterday in the area between the Open Air Museum and Rannamõisa tee," the Rescue Board announced around 6.30 a.m. Friday.

"No further signs of the bears were found in the morning, which suggests that they have moved on," the board continued.

Where the two brown bears – a species native to Estonia – are likely to be now is unknown. One expert noted that they could have made their way into the city from their regular habitat, likely to be not far outside city limits, following the substantial green areas which extend into the Haabersti and Rocca al Mare districts, west of the city center.

Should new information on the animals' whereabouts come to light, the search may be restarted. The Rescue Board is asking local residents to remain alert and immediately dial 112 – the emergency number – if sighted, giving the exact location and time the bears were spotted and which direction they were moving, as well as the precise number of animals spotted. As noted, the pair have been reported in the media as a mother and cub.

Rescue Board spokesperson Kaarel Langemets told ERR Thursday morning that the forested area in Haabersti had been raked over again from early on, but to no avail.

Location of the area the bears were spotted in, west of central Tallinn. including the Open Air Museum (Vabaõhumuuseum). Source: Google Maps

"They haven't been found today. [Personnel] searched the area with a drone and dogs, but most likely the animals have moved on."

Langemets said that the situation is not quite safe yet, however, as the animals could have moved somewhere nearby.

"We ask that people be attentive and, where possible, leave home by car and not let their pets run freely. In addition, food waste should not be left in the vicinity of rubbish bins," Langemets said.

Authorities had told the public Thursday not to approach the bears if seen and to seek refuge in a car, their home or elsewhere, since their behavior might be unpredictable. They also requested the public keep cats and dogs which might normally be left to roam around outside, indoors through the day and overnight.

An ursine timeline:

Thursday, May 14

9.02 a.m.: The authorities are first alerted by a member of the public to the two bears' presence, on a health track in a wooded area close to the Saku Suurhall indoor arena. The health tracks are temporarily closed to the public.

The Rescue Board says Vana-Rannamõisa, Saviliiva and Lõuka streets are affected, as well as the museum itself (see map).

Personnel from the PPA, the Rescue Board, as well as hunters and other experts are on site, with drones later deployed.

10.01 a.m.: The PPA makes the first of several tweets announcing publicly the spotting, issuing advice and details.

10.35 a.m.: Exhibitions manager at the nearby Tallinn Zoo Tõnis Tasane confirms the story to ERR.

Shortly after 3.15 p.m.: Rescue Board announced that the mother bear had been spotted in the same area, adding that local residents should stay indoors for the rest of today and overnight.

Around 7 p.m.: The searching operation has moved on from an attempt to escort the bears out of the urban area, to trying to get in as close as possible before putting them asleep using a tranquilizer dart or similar.

Around 8.30 p.m.: The mother bear has been located again and an effort is made to get close in order to put her to sleep, but fails.

Shortly before 10.30 p.m.: Rescue Board announces the search has been halted for the night. The area is being guarded overnight. During the summer months, brown bears take intermittent naps over the 24-hour period and are often active searching for food during the short-lived hours of darkness.

Friday, May 15

Around 3.30 a.m.: Search recommences in the same area, using drones and dogs.

Shortly before 6.30 a.m.: The Rescue Board announces the search has been called off until any further information arises as to the bears' location. It is not known where they may have moved on to, but the original search zone has drawn a blank.

The brown bear is native to Estonia, with cases of the animal finding its way into smaller areas of human settlement an occasional occurrence even before the pandemic, though unusual for a city the size of Tallinn. Cases in recent years include those reported on Saaremaa and in Valga. Total numbers of brown bears in Estonia are reportedly in the hundreds.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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