​Five Sisters Zoo to the rescue for Yampil in war-torn Ukraine - Steve Cardownie

The Five Sisters Zoo at West Calder is busy building an enclosure which will house its latest resident next month.

Yampil, an eight-year-old Asiatic black bear, has been rescued from war-torn Ukraine and is set to find a new home at the zoo.

The bear is named after the village where it was found, and which was occupied by invading Russian troops in the spring of last year.

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He was in a private zoo which had been abandoned by the owners, leaving the caged animals to fend for themselves.

When Ukrainian forces reclaimed the territory, they came across the zoo only to find the premises strewn with dead animals where the menagerie had been destroyed.

The Plutorn Vetmarket team said at the time that some of the animals died of starvation and those that were still free were subjected to gunfire and were blown up after setting off trip wires.

They saw the head of a bison and the remains of ostriches and other animals which had been eaten by the Russian forces.

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The bear was found in the only house that survived the attacks, although it was badly damaged by shelling.

Despite the building suffering a direct missile hit Yampil miraculously survived, although he was concussed by the blast.

Having gone without food and water for a very long time, he was in poor condition and was evacuated to the Kyiv region where he underwent a period of rehabilitation at the White Rock bear shelter until last October, when he was transported to Poland and then on to a rescue centre in Belgium.

Having worked with the team at The Five Sisters Zoo before and knowing their record of rescuing animals, the Belgian centre contacted The Five Sisters owners, Brian and Shirley Curran, and asked if they could provide a new home for the bear.

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Just having spent £400,000 on a new penguin enclosure and despite being short of capital, and ticket sale income being down on previous year’s takings post-Covid, the zoo decided to take the animal.

But they would have to set up an appeal fund if they were to provide an acceptable, spacious enclosure for the beast.

Having set a target of £200,000 the appeal got off to a flying start, but then inevitably slowed down in recent months, although it still reaching half their target figure.

Undeterred and determined to accommodate Yampil, the team pressed ahead and after reshuffling a couple of the current animal enclosures, they were able to identify the land that they needed for the new facility.

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Work proceeded apace to meet the Belgian rescue centre’s desire to have the bear rehoused by November.

Brian told me that The Five Sisters is more of an animal rescue centre than a zoo and although the animals are on display, this is mainly to create income in order that they can continue their work.

Five Sisters have over 160 different species. You can see Scotland’s only cheetah and explore the “Lost Kingdom” indoor reptile house, just 25 minutes west of Edinburgh.

Having set up a successful garden landscaping business, he and Shirley had no second thoughts about establishing an animal rescue centre when they first purchased the two-and-a-half-acres of land at West Calder . . .

But there are many who are glad that they did!

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