Members of the Russian public have raised a large sum of money to fly a bear cub from one end of the country to the other, so that she can start a new life after poachers killed her mother.
Villagers in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula found the starving 10-month-old roaming their freezing streets last month, crying out for food and help.
When local volunteers managed to coax her into a shelter, they found she was half the 50 kg (110 lbs) a bear of her age should normally weigh, Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reports.
The villagers of Malka fed the cub on fish and named her Mashka, then set about finding her a new home – once local trackers had established that her mother was dead. But this proved easier said than done. The local zoo in Yelizovo was only able to offer Mashka temporary accommodation, as they lack the room for another rapidly-growing Kamchatka brown bear – the largest sub-species in Eurasia.
Mashka on Facebook
Nature reserves also had to decline, as a cub accustomed to people would be vulnerable to predators, and Mashka lost her mother before she could learn to catch fish herself, the paper reports.
But Mashka’s rescuers struck lucky with the Feniks Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Kaluga, in the west of the country.
But flying even a small bear from one end of Russia to the other costs serious money, so Veronika Matyushina, the director of the Feniks Centre, set Mashka up with a Facebook account to use the power of social media to foot the 220,000-rouble (£2,560; $3,288) bill.
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“Hello! My ticket for the silver-winged plane is all ready. Thank you all for helping me get to the Feniks Centre,” Mashka’s account said, adding that she is due to arrive at her new home on 22 January.
Bears are much-loved in Russian culture, and the media coverage of the story has certainly played on the appealing nature of the bear cub, but the Feniks Centre emphasises that this is “no cartoon bear – this is a serious animal”.
“We are aware of the great responsibility we are taking on, and will do all we can to care for her and guarantee her safety and the safety of others, as we prepare Mashka for her life among people,” Ms Matyushina posted on Facebook.
She also made the point that the more poachers kill adult bears, the more lost and hungry cubs will wander into towns in search of food. This winter has seen a number of bear attacks in Kamchatka, to the point where local prosecutors have demanded action from the authorities to protect the public.
Komsomolskaya Pravda summed up the popular mood over Mashka when it said “inhuman people left her to die, but decent people sent in their pennies to save her from starving”.
Reporting by Martin Morgan
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