Bear which strayed over Russian border now held at Tallinn Zoo

Prosha in temporary accommodation at Tallinn Zoo.
Prosha in temporary accommodation at Tallinn Zoo. Source: Madis Leivits

One of two bears thought to have crossed into Estonia over the border with Russia in late June has been found. The two bears, named Prosha and Polya, were being sought by authorities in the Russian Federation since they were reintroduced into the wild there, having been cared for in captivity after being orphaned as cubs. They are thought to have traveled from the Pskov region, which abuts Estonia's southeastern border.

Prosha, a male, is the bear which has been apprehended, and is currently held at Tallinn zoo. The other, Polya, a female, has yet to be located, and is thought to have crossed another national border, this time into Latvia.

The two-and-a-half-year-old Prosha was found scavenging at a compost heap in Valga County, ETV's current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera reports, where he had been causing a certain amount of disruption. The bear had knocked over paint pots and clambered over at least one vehicle and some outhouses.

"His abilities to open doors and sneak in are amazing," said Aimer Rakko, head of the hunting and fishing bureau, noting not only the bear's cunning, but also its lack of fear of humans.

"Were he a circus bear, he would no doubt be able to pull off other ticks such as riding a bike, but there are no reports of any such incidents," Rakko continued, adding that his "bad manners" were simply the bear's own resourcefulness and not as a result of any specific training while being raised in captivity in Russia.

Hunger might also have been behind the ursine audacity, as well as getting separated from his companion, Polya.

Prosha had reportedly visited the compost heap, in the village of Kulli, nightly for several days before being caught.

Vet Madis Levits said that the bear had plundered a trash bag, before falling asleep under a fir tree, where he was found.

Prosha was in fact lucky not to have been shot, as would often be the case and which hunters are legally allowed to do.

Already expected at Tallinn Zoo

Tallinn Zoo had already been prepared for some weeks for the two bears' interception, preparing a pen there for their quarantine before being "repatriated" to Russia.

Spokesperson for the zoo Tõnis Tasane also said that the bear's new-found captivity had not fazed it.

"He seems to be feeling fine, and is hardly what you would call a shy bear. Some animals just want to brood in their own corner after being transported, but this one happily walks around," Tasane said.

Should Prosha remain in the zoo for any length of time pending formalities in handing him over to the Russian authorities, he is likely to become something of an attraction there. Tallinn Zoo has not hosted any brown bears for many years, Tasane said.

As for life back in the wild, the plan Russian authorities have is to resettle Prosha and, if found, Polya, in the Komi forest, in the Ural mountains, hundreds of kilometers from any major settlements. That way they should reintegrate as wild animals and ditch the behaviors learned via human interaction, it is hoped.

Since bears can walk as much as 60 km in a day, are good swimmers, and have a penchant for honey, keeping them away from settlements and jealous apiarists is also a priority.

The incident is not the first time in recent years that bears, seemingly accustomed to humans, have entered yards in Estonia. Last summer two bear cubs entered a Saaremaa backyard, scavenging food, even allowing owners to hand-feed them. These were thought to have come from the mainland, whence they were returned, though what prior human interaction they had had remains a mystery.

The original Aktuaalne kaamera report (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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