Masha, a female bear rescued from Ukraine

Incredible rescue saves Masha from war-torn Ukraine


Incredible rescue saves Masha from war-torn Ukraine

Pictured: Masha smiling and enjoying her new home at Libearty Bear Sanctuary after decades of suffering in a Ukrainian circus.

Masha, an exploited bear who spent 19 years in a circus, finally found freedom thanks to caring people who came together to support her rescue. Sadly, just three weeks after arriving at her new sanctuary home, Masha passed away naturally after suffering a stroke. 

It is painfully unfair that after so many years of cruelty this well-deserved period of sanctuary was cut short for her. Her journey to freedom was under incredible circumstances and the result of so many people who wanted to see her free, and thankfully they did. 

Journey across war-torn Ukraine 

The Eurasian brown bear was taken on a 140-mile journey across war-torn Ukraine to the Romanian border by the brave Ukraine animal charity, Warriors of Wildlife. There, they were met by Millions of Friends (AMP), who joined them in transporting the 22-year-old bear to their Libearty Bear Sanctuary. This all happened successfully despite the dangers posed by Russia’s invasion. 

Masha spent most of her life in misery as part of a circus, where she was kept in a tiny cage, and forced to perform tricks, such as riding a bike to loud music and roaring crowds. The elderly bear was finally surrendered by the circus owner to Warriors of Wildlife and placed in a temporary shelter. 

Masha’s destination was a beautiful forest home filled with trees to climb, pools to bathe in, and over 100 other brown bears to socialize with. 

Watch Masha arriving at her new home:

Remembering Masha 

In the last few weeks of her life, Masha was able to play in the grass, scratch trees, and paddle in her pool. 

The 22-year-old bear arrived at the sanctuary on March 21 and passed away three weeks later, on April 11. In this short time, we were delighted at how she responded to her newly found freedom. 

While we are all heart-broken at the news that Masha didn't get to enjoy her new home at Libearty Bear Sanctuary for longer, we take comfort in knowing her last weeks were spent surrounded by nature with the freedom to explore, and that she received the best care possible.  

A safe haven for bears  

Our partner Libearty Bear Sanctuary is based in the oak forests of Zarnesti, Romania, and provides a safe haven for rescued bears, like Masha, to live naturally. AMP has overseen all construction work, manages the sanctuary, cares for the bears, and facilitates bear rescues. 

You can view some of the 115 rescued bears on the sanctuary’s YouTube livestream

Keeping captive wild animals in cruel exploitative systems has a devastating impact on individual animals and wildlife. When we make wild animals dependent on humans, they are especially vulnerable in emergencies, including human-made conflicts and catastrophes. 

We believe that wild animals have the right to a wild life. They don’t belong to us - their value is not based on what they can do for people or the profit we can extract from them. We need to protect them, not exploit them. 

Masha’s story will inspire change 

As Masha was being rescued, we saw how a dream can turn into reality. People have been trying to negotiate Masha’s freedom for years and there was little hope that she would ever get the chance to be free. Under incredible circumstances and thanks to caring people, she did. 

Here is what our CEO and other involved organizations had to say: 

Lionel de Lange, Director, Warriors of Wildlife said:

“It was extremely sad to see Masha in the circus where she had to perform for 19 long years. When we eventually got her into our care, her ex-owner still tried to proudly show us the tricks he taught her, a steel bar under his arm. Masha immediately started to cower and stand on her hind leg like a human and use her paws to protect her head and face - she was terrified.  

“When war broke out and her transport was cancelled, I had to leave the country and felt utterly guilty to leave her behind although I knew it was just temporary, I was coming back.  

Seeing her being released at the Libearty bear sanctuary was just a great moment of joy. She was able to do everything on her own time; she wasn’t forced to do anything. It is now time for her to just be a bear, digging the dirt, climbing tree and enjoy her time.” 

Cristina Lapis, President of the Millions of Friends Association, said:

“Faced with war, humans and animals are suffering the same fear and pain. The last months spent in Ukraine were stressful for Masha - instead of listening to the wind, and the sounds of the forest she heard the thunder and saw the fire in the sky.  

“When arriving in the sanctuary she was trembling and didn't want to eat or drink. But after a quiet night, she was ready in the morning to face, for the first time, a part of freedom. She saw the trees, the grass, and saw her image in the pool water. She began to smell the fresh air of the forest and saw bears like her for the first time in her life. 

“She is now in a training area to get used to the environment, but she will join her family of bears when ready. Masha has found a new home at the Libearty sanctuary - a second chance for her to live a bear life in dignity and among other bears like her."

Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection said:

“The situation unfolding in Ukraine is terrifying for people, but also animals who are often the forgotten victims in times of crisis yet suffer immensely. While things are truly bleak, I am delighted that even amidst the devastation, there is hope for Masha and we hope other animals too in the coming weeks.  

“It has been a tense wait to learn the outcome of her journey, and we are just so relieved that this rescue has been a success and wasn’t prevented by war. After so many agonising years of cruelty, Masha can finally get to live in peace, as she deserves.” 

Masha is now resting in peace, but her story will continue. 

Donate to help bears like Masha and end cruel wildlife exploitation 

Bears like Masha deserve to live peacefully in as natural an environment as possible while getting the care they need to help comfort their mental and physical pain. They deserve a life of dignity, but so do all wild animals. With your support we can push for a world where bears and other wildlife won’t have to suffer for entertainment. 

Donate now, and you can help our wider campaign work to end cruel wildlife exploitation like bear baiting, dancing, and circuses, while providing funding to our partner organizations and sanctuaries so that formerly abused wildlife can get the care they desperately need. The sooner we can rescue bears from a life in the circus, bear baiting, or bear dancing, the sooner they get to live their lives peacefully in nature.

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