After being linked to an illegal bear-baiting contest, pet food manufacturer Royal Canin has offered help in support of a Four Paws program for rescued bears.
Royal Canin pledged the support after meeting with Four Paws representatives in Vienna, Austria, yesterday. The meeting concluded almost a week of back-and-forth rhetoric between both parties that saw the animal welfare organization accuse the manufacturer of sponsoring illegal bear-baiting contests in the Ukraine.
On July 23, Four Paws produced video evidence obtained during a bear-baiting contest that took place in April 2013 near Vinnytsia. The video showed a chained brown bear unable to escape as two to three dogs were set upon it at approximately 10-minute intervals.
During the contest, the Royal Canin name and logo appeared on event ribbon, banners and trophies that were eventually awarded to the owners of the most aggressive dogs. The pet food manufacturer denied any knowledge of the bear-baiting competition and said that it believed the company was sponsoring a one-off dog show.
After repeated requests to meet with Royal Canin management on the issue were declined, Four Paws provided further photographic evidence of another bear-baiting competition, again sponsored by Royal Canin.
FOUR PAWS Ukraine
Royal Canin responded that it only sponsored two trophies, yet clearly more are available in the photo captured by FOUR PAWS.
The fallout from animal activists was immediate, and resulted in worldwide protests followed swiftly by a formal apology from the company. One day later, the company agreed to meet with the animal welfare organization.
During Tuesday's meeting in Vienna, Royal Canin made a commitment to Four Paws to support the rescue of the bears used during the illegal bear-baiting competitions. The organization's project proposal plan was submitted to the Ukrainian government and also to Royal Canin.
Four Paws told Digital Journal that their proposal involves, "a reception station ... where the 15-20 bears concerned can spend the rest of their lives in species-appropriate conditions."
Dr. Amir Khalil, Director of Project Development, vet and chief negotiator at Four Paws, explained:
"I am pleased that we have now been able to sit down with Royal Canin to discuss tangible solutions. We welcome Royal Canin's willingness to take on responsibility. But of course words alone are not enough, now we need to see actions."
Hervé Marc, Global Corporate Affairs Director with Royal Canin, responded:
Royal Canin looks forward to opening this new chapter by helping to promote animal welfare in Ukraine. Therefore, we intend to provide funding for this project. We will also take the lead in building an alliance to include additional volunteering parties (business partners, associations, NGO etc…) to ensure the project is secured for the long term.
Dr. Khalil added that all parties would, "work together to map out the particulars of the support."
A photo depicting another bear-baiting contest sponsored by Royal Canin showed that a similar contest took place back in February 2012, Four Paws said.
The organization has spent years rescuing bears, including that of Nastia, a four-month-old bear cub ripped away from her mother by two keepers at the Lutsk Zoo in the Ukraine. The keepers were captured on video forcing the female cub into a tiny box to be sold to traders.
Dr. Khalil emphasized that his organization's new project proposal, "is only at the start," but, he added, "it is already clear that we need the support of the Ukrainian authorities if we are to end the bears' suffering."
"A project like this is very demanding logistically, financially and bureaucratically," Khalil concluded, "and as such, it also needs a lot of time."
Four Paws currently manages four sanctuaries, three established facilities in Bulgaria, Germany and Austria, plus a new facility in Kosovo.