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Brown bears cruelly kept in captivity for 17 years in Japan now safe in UK park; Exclusive: Riku the bear had been kept at a museum in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's islands, as a tourist attraction.

Byline: Grace Macaskill

His 17 years in captivity were spent in a cruelly cramped cage measuring two by three metres.

Riku the bear had been kept at a museum in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's islands, as a tourist attraction.

But after making a 5,400-mile journey this week, he finally tasted freedom as he bounded out of a freight carton and into a new life at Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

Within minutes, he was slurping strawberry yoghurt from a syringe and was later joined by his brother Kai in an adjoining bear house. In a heartwarming moment, the pair vocalised to each other through a metal grid.

And those precious "chuffing" noises A-signalled success for staff at the Doncaster reserve A-following their 18-month mission to take in four endangered brown bears.

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The brothers, along with 27-year-olds Amu and Hannako, were kept at the Hokkaido A-museum to show how the A-indigenous Ainu people once killed adult bears and stole their offspring to keep as pets.

They were fed left over school dinners, forced to sleep on A-concrete floors and had no toys to stimulate them.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park vet Alan Tevendale said they had displayed distressing behaviour including pacing, rubbing their faces against bars and vomiting.

But the bears showed no obvious stress on Friday when they were transported from Japan to Heathrow Airport, then on to South Yorkshire. There they will be kept in huge steel cages for 24 hours before being released in a [pounds sterling]400,000 purpose-built reserve.

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While the brothers rolled around in their hay beds and A-nibbled at strips of willow, the lone female, Hannako, discovered a new plastic toy that dispenses treats.

Amu was more reluctant to leave the freight cage.

Kim Wilkins, the park's carnivore team leader, has drawn up a rehabilitation programme.

It will involve introducing treats such as honey and fish to their diet, stimulating them with toys and A-introducing new smells, ranging from dung to perfume.

Kim said: "We couldn't be happier with their arrival. Everything has gone really smoothly.

"They are fantastic.

"It looks like they already have a new favourite food with strawberry yoghurt. We will now work at building up a A-relationship with them and hopefully they will be as happy as our polar bears.

"We've got one called Victor who is injection trained and offers up his bottom at his cage when we give him a signal."

Vet Alan, who flew back from Japan with the bears alongside animal collection manager Simon Marsh, said: "Things couldn't have gone better.

"They look relaxed, they are eating and playing, and Riku was really pleased to see his brother after such a long journey."

The Ussuri brown bears were once widespread across Asia but are now A-extinct in some areas, with just 10,000 left in Japan. They are vulnerable due to habitat loss and illegal hunting for body parts and skins.

The four bears' epic trek began as they were tempted from their tiny cages in Japan with food before being loaded into carts for travel.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park's animal A-manager Debbie Porter said: "Hannako was very playful when we were loading her. At one point she tried to grab a A-hosepipe, she was very curious about what was going on.

"She is very sassy and bright and likes people, so it should be quite fun when we get her settled at home.

"The bears were taken to the airport in an air-conditioned truck before being loaded on to the planes to Tokyo and on to the UK.

"Once finished, I took a photo of the empty cages because it was unbelievable to think they had been kept in there for so many years."

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Credit: Sunday Mirror

Kim Wilkins feeds Kai some yogurt
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Title Annotation:News,World news
Publication:Daily Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Aug 4, 2018
Words:663
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