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Cablegate: Bears Find a Home That's Just Right in the Far East

VZCZCXRO9337
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDBU RUEHFK RUEHHM RUEHKSO RUEHLN RUEHNAG RUEHPB RUEHSK
RUEHYG
DE RUEHVK #0009/01 0400449
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090449Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1256
INFO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 0546
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHZU/ASIAN PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION COLLECTIVE
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1379

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VLADIVOSTOK 000009

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV SCUL PGOV RS
SUBJECT: BEARS FIND A HOME THAT'S JUST RIGHT IN THE FAR EAST

VLADIVOSTO 00000009 001.2 OF 002


Summary

1. Bears and pensioners, both prisoners of the Russian
bureaucracy, are trying to survive together. Mr. Ivan Leschenko
and his wife, Lyubov, have "inherited" a wildlife refuge for
eight Himalayan bears. The regional government considers the
Himalayan bear to be property of the state, but it does not
provide any financial support for this shelter. The Leschenko's
have no choice but to manage this shelter on their modest
retirement income.

Past . . .

2. During Mr. Leschenko's 40 years as a game warden, he saved
many wild animals that were injured by poachers, including
tigers, bears and wild boars. Ten years ago, regional
authorities created a shelter for wounded or abandoned animals
in the town of Dubovy Klyuch (less than two hours from
Vladivostok). The shelter was run by Mr. Leschenko and located
next to his summer hut. Fences, cages and provisions were
funded by the regional hunting department. Hunters,
environmentalists, or concerned local citizens brought injured
and abandoned animals to Mr. Leschenko. In 2006, the nature
protection agency was restructured and the district hunting
management department was closed. Mr. Leschenko was dismissed
and the shelter's funding was stopped. Instead of relocating
the animals, the regional government simply abandoned them. Mr.
Leschenko, age 75, and his wife, Lyubov, age 74, now privately
manage the unsanctioned refuge.

3. This shelter is technically operating without a license.
Aleksey Surovyi of the Primorye Regional Hunting Management
Department advised reporters that Mr. Leschenko is considered "a
law breaker, since he keeps bears illegally, without a special
license." A license cannot be issued since the regional
government has no records of the shelter, and at the same time,
the regional government will not subsidize the refuge since it
is operating without proper authorization. The bears cannot be
released into the wild since they have been in captivity too
long and will not survive on their own. Himalayan bears are
considered state property and cannot be sold or placed in a zoo
without special authorization.

4. Upon closure of the shelter, Mr. Leschenko performed the
required treatment of the injured animals and released most of
them into the wild, with the exception of eleven bears that had
been raised by humans since they were cubs. The Leschenkos
explored the possibility of placing the bears in zoos or
circuses, but because of lack of appropriate documentation,
their attempts were futile. The government would not provide
the necessary authorization, and instead totally erased this
shelter from state documents. Several attempts by Leschenko to
draw officials' attention to the needs of the shelter were
ineffective. The Leschenko's had no choice but to manage this
shelter on their modest retirement income.

Present . . .

5. The Leschenkos spend two thirds of their modest retirement
income to feed the bears. Additional costs are covered by
donations from a few local citizens, random visitors, an
occasional businessman, and U.S. Consulate staff. Visitors
report that the bears appear to be in good health and live in
good conditions. In late fall, "officials" visited the bear
refuge and removed the three oldest bears. Mr. Leschenko was
advised that they were being relocated to another shelter which
would be more comfortable for large bears. Mr. Leschenko
contacted this other shelter and learned that the bears were
never delivered. It is Mr. Leschenko's opinion that the bears
were delivered to a hunting farm and killed by game hunters who
paid a hefty fee for this privilege of hunting "wild bears".

. . . and Future of the Shelter

VLADIVOSTO 00000009 002.2 OF 002

6. There is discussion that the newly organized Primorye Nature
Resource and Protection Department may establish another
official wildlife shelter. This could be an ideal solution for
the bears, however, discussions to create a new shelter are only
beginning. The Leschenko's realize that they need to find
someone with a love for wildlife to take over for them when they
pass away.

Comment

7. The current Russian system has already demonstrated its
inability or unwillingness to handle wildlife issues unless
intervention is dictated at the highest level. The endangered
Amur Tiger benefited from this intervention when a special
program was created to protect the tiger's habitat in two
national parks -- Udege Legend and Zov Tigra. Even Vladivostok
Mayor Igor Pushlaryov supported the tigers with a contribution
to the Yudin's wildlife rehabilitation center located in
Gaivoron, to the northwest of Vladivostok. Such support is much
appreciated by conservationists, but immediate action is
required from the Russian federal government to stop poaching
and to enforce efficient environmental protection policies. In
the meantime, the Leschenko's are providing at least a temporary
haven for some very lucky Himalayan bears.
ARMBRUSTER

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