A Syrian brown bear named Fifi spent the first 10 years of her life performing circus tricks for a roadside zoo in Pennsylvania and spent the following 20 years imprisoned in a tiny rusted cage after the zoo went out of business.
However, Fifi’s sad story had a happier ending after animal welfare organization PETA rescued and released her into a safe sanctuary in Colorado, where the brown bear underwent a breathtaking transformation.
When Big Bear Farm Zoo Park in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, was closed down in 1995 for multiple Animal Welfare Act violations, the owners left Fifi and three other bears to languish in their barren metal cages, PETA reported. It wasn’t until 2015 that a whistleblower called for help.
PETA’s captive animal law enforcement representative, Brittany Peet, told Inside Edition that the whistleblower referenced a “suspicious advert” giving away free metal cages on the condition that the recipient also take the bears inside the cages.
“Bears are so overpopulated in captivity that no one wants them,” Peet said. “You literally cannot give them away, especially when you’re talking about four geriatric bears.”
A PETA rescue team traveled to the site of the old zoo in July 2015 and was met with the heartbreaking reality of Fifi’s captivity. The 30-year-old bear was emaciated, her fur was thin and sparse, her eyes were sunken, her teeth had been filed down, and she had painful untreated arthritis in both of her hind legs.
Fifi and the other bears—Bruno, Pocahontas, and Marsha—were also seen swaying back and forth, reports The Dodo, a common coping mechanism for stress and boredom often seen in captive animals.
“The 4 bears only had small rotted wood boxes to lay in,” Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary explained on Facebook, “but were not large enough for the bears to fit into completely, nor did they have an end wall to close off the box from winter snow and cold.”
“Their owner felt they shouldn’t hibernate and made sure they stayed awake each winter for decades (this is extremely detrimental to the bears’ health and wellbeing),” they shared.
PETA’s rescue team transported all four bears to the spacious Colorado sanctuary, hoping that there was time left in the elderly creatures’ lives to recover.
Fortunately, Fifi’s spirit still had some life, and she was able to rebound. “[We knew] her spirit was going to soar really quickly, [even though] her body was going to take a while to catch up,” Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, told Inside Edition.
Fifi flourished in her new environs, learning to run, forage for food, and even play with water. She quickly gained the weight, strength, and the thick fur coat she had long been missing; as a result of their progress, Fifi and her counterparts were finally able to hibernate through the winter.
PETA released footage of Fifi’s extraordinary transformation in her new sanctuary setting five months after the Syrian brown bear was rescued. The video went viral, amassing millions of views and plenty of support for captive bears everywhere.
Sadly, in March 2019, Fifi passed away peacefully at the sanctuary having reached a healthy age for her species.
“None of us knows where bears go when they die,” said PETA contributor Michelle Kretzer. “But we hope Fifi’s spirit is ambling through a forest, swimming in a river, feeling the sun on her face, and relishing the freedom that was always her right.”
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