The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a tragedy on many levels but one that will have escaped the attention of most people was highlighted on Today with Claire Byrne by Killian McLaughlin, AKA the Bear Man of Buncrana. Killian, who's the founder of the Wild Ireland animal retreat in Donegal, told Claire that he had been trying to rescue two caged brown bears from Russia when the war in Ukraine started:

"The bears are two bears who’ve been rescued from horrendous conditions and are being temporarily housed in a dog pound, for want of a better word and the conditions there are not good either."

Killian has previously rescued bears (hence the nickname) and brought European wolves, wild boar and lynx to his Donegal sanctuary. The two brown bears currently in need in Russia, Buu and Tiopa, were rescued from what Killian described as horrendous conditions by a Russian woman who has taken them in, but she has very little money to provide them with necessities, like drinking water, enough food and open space.

"Buu, who’s the older of the two bears lives in a stable, with iron bars on the front so he’s no access to daylight, he can’t go outside. And then Tiopa lives in a cage outdoors. There’s no shelter, he has no water. He gets his water once a day from a hose. So the conditions are not good."

The Wild Ireland team had been raising money to send to the woman to help her with the bears, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions that followed it mean that they can no longer send money into the country. And even before the invasion, the rescue effort was plagued with bad luck. Killian engaged a vet to fly from Moscow to Dagestan where the woman lives with the bears. The vet was able to give the bears their shots, but:

"And then she had to take blood samples and she personally flew those blood samples back to Moscow and she arrived at the lab and she was told, sorry we can’t take the bloods today because everybody in the lab has Covid."

The vet was eventually able to get the bloods done, but the plan was for Moscow Zoo to help with getting the bears ready for transport and that obviously fell by the wayside when the war began. So what are the options for getting the bears out of Russia now?

"We are looking into the possibility of maybe moving them to a neighbouring country like Azerbaijan or Turkey even and flying them from there, but again, that’s going to cost an awful lot of money."

Killian and everyone who’s helping the attempt to get the bears out of Russia and over to the Wild Ireland retreat has put in a year of effort and they have no intention of stopping now:

"If I have to jump in the van and drive over there myself, we’ll get them out of there, Claire. We are committed and Bears and Mind, the rescue charity, are committed to getting the bears out of there as well. It’s just going to take time and an awful lot of ingenuity, I think, to get them here."

You can hear Claire’s full conversation with Killian McLaughlin by going here.