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Lebanon-Rescued Bears safe in Turkey

We first found Kira and Big Mama nine months ago, and started preparations for the flight three weeks ago. Finally, all the hard work paid off as Kira and Big Mama are finally in a sanctuary.
It was hard enough to secure their freedom from the zoo, but finding a suitable sanctuary – and all the help and donations needed to get the bears there – took just as much effort.
With the help of groups around the world, we were able to contact Dr. Nilufer Aytug of the Karakabey bear sanctuary in Turkey and secure a lifelong place for them there.

As bears are endangered animals, we had to get special permits to be able to transport them internationally. We received the permits at the last minute, and went to the airport in the middle of the night to pick up the team from the sanctuary.

Dr. Nilufer, a bear expert, arrived with Dr. Huseyin Cihan, another vet from the sanctuary, and Ms. Natasha Wothke of German group Pro Animale. Pro Animale is a major supporter of the sanctuary and covered a majority of the expenses needed to get Kira and Big Mama there.

Early the next morning we finished off the specialized crates needed to fly the bears, and left for the zoo in the late afternoon. We considered trying to coax the bears into the transport cages but decided it would be safer to quickly anesthetize them and place the bears in the waiting crates.

Kira was first, and in less than 15 minutes the medications had taken affect and we were able to break the rusted locks and carry her from the cage. Big Mama, much heavier, needed eight people to carry her out and place her safely in the crate.

Just as it was getting dark the crates were loaded into air conditioned truck to be driven to the Beirut airport. It was so strange to us that after having been locked there for 15 years they were freed in just minutes.

We had to be to the airport at midnight as their flight was at 4 am, and from previous rescues we knew showing up with two bears would bring a lot of attention and we had better be there early to get all the paperwork in place and see the bears loaded in time.

MEA had offered to fly the bears for free, but unfortunately their planes which went to Turkey for the next couple weeks were not big enough to safely accommodate the bears so we had to keep searching for an airline to fly them.

Emirates agreed to fly them from Beirut to Turkey via Dubai, and sponsored 40% of the cost. Jean Kreiker of Emirates SkyCargo helped make sure all of the paperwork was in order in the days leading up to the flight, and he was kind enough meet us at midnight to help make sure everything went smoothly even though he was not scheduled to work.

Kira and Big Mama had became fully awake by then, and they seemed as surprised as we were that they were finally out of the zoo. After a few last treats and some water, we said our goodbyes as the crates were driven away to be loaded on the plane.

In Dubai some caring volunteers were able to make sure they were fine at the airport and gave them each some water and to see them on the next part of their trip. Dr. Huseyin called us the next afternoon to say they had arrived safely to Turkey and were on their way to the sanctuary.

Kira and Big Mama arrived to the sanctuary that night and were released into a temporary quarantine enclosure. Big Mama ran straight out of her crate and climbed into the pool. Kira has already started to make friends with some of the 50 other bears at the sanctuary as they watch each other through the fence. In a couple weeks, after they have had a chance to settle in, they will be introduced to other bears and finally get to enjoy the large forest waiting for them.

Thank you to Emirates and MEA, all of the organizations and individuals who helped along the way, the Animals Lebanon supporters who helped make this possible, and especially to the Karakabey sanctuary for giving Kira and Big Mama their first opportunity to be bears.

Stay tuned as we travel to Turkey to be there when Kira and Big Mama are released into the forested enclosure!

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