Bear removed from private keeper for safety

A bear that has been kept for the last twenty-one years on a private property in the fishing village of Ragaciems in Engure county on the Gulf coast of Kurzeme was moved to the Riga Zoo Tuesday, LETA learned from the Ministry of Environment and Regional Affairs.

Nature Protection Board spokesman Andris Soms confirmed to newswire BNS Tuesday afternoon that the move had been completed successfully. Earlier he told the agency the owner would get to formally maintain personal visiting rights and paperwork of guardianship, but not actual custody of the increasingly mean-spirited aging beast, no matter how accustomed to human companionship.

The bear, whose domestic master former weight-lifter and boxing coach Aivars Ritenieks has bestowed him with the nickname ‘The Terrible’ (but was christened ‘the nation’s only private pet bear’ by media last year), was long ago separated from his mother and left with his new owners as a cub by a circus that felt it didn’t need the animal anymore.

The bear was noted to have been looking well-fed and clean-housed by Nature Protection Board inspector Gita Strode, (accompanied by an LTV news crew in December 2012). The animal was last licensed for its current place of keeping in 2001 by state veterinary authorities and hadn’t caused concern until beginning to behave in dangerous ways, according to complaints to the local government and other responsible authorities by residents in recent years at the property's general lack of warning signs and other safety measures.

The Panorāma crew reported at the time the owner openly admitted being ‘angry’ at the state for intervening in his homestead’s economic affairs, charging him seven lats in inspection fees for keeping the bear registered in the state’s veterinary books. He said he was “guilty as charged” for refusing “in principle” to pay the bear’s registration fee in light of his investments in his good work of keeping the bear all these years.

He also called the bear the “symbol” of the national weight-lifting and boxing communities, which have followed and supported the bear’s welfare, helping to feed him and clean his cage, for instance.

Officials from the Food and Veterinary Service, the local government police and the Nature Protection Board have visited the site repeatedly since and determined that the animal does not enjoy sufficient space for its size and that indeed certain safety violations were being allowed which were a threat both to the bear and to the public. In effect, the cage was accessible to anyone, day or night without additional fencing, nor is the territory itself fenced in.

Despite the citations for the cramped quarters bordering on mistreatment, the owner had failed to make any improvements to the bear’s living conditions, therefore the ruling was taken to remove the animal from his care to more appropriate premises. ‘The Terrible’ has found a temporary home at the city’s Zoo, which hoped to manage the massive animal’s move with special equipment, and the presence of state police and veterinary personnel Tuesday.

The operation was not expected to go easily, as the territory was terribly overgrown and the equipment needed to be moved near to the animal. The bear has unfortunately not seen a veterinarian for many years and its state of health is not known.

It was imperative that the operation happen during this time of year as the bear is still preparing for its imminent season of hibernation and is much better disposed to such an outright intervention into its accustomed mode of life and abode than it would be upon awakening fresh thereafter.

Luckily for the bear, his predecessor tenant at the Riga Zoo, an old female named Grieta, happened to move on to 'better hunting grounds' last season, and her old habitat required just a little bit of tweaking for Old Meany to be able to move in just in time to head off to sleep for a few months.

The owner may still appeal the ruling to remove the animal from his custody, reported LETA.

Meanwhile, hikers at the other end of the country in the crunchy frost-covered snow near Alūksne came upon bear-paw prints and cut their hike short Sunday, posting a tweet of their discovery before wisely heading home from the deep woods near the northeast Vidzeme province town.

 

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