Meet Usko, the bear on wheels

Meet Usko, the bear on wheels

Usko arrived at Arcturos in July 2015. He was only 3 months old. He had been discovered by members of an environmental organization based in Skopje, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), suffering from severe spinal injuries. He couldn’t stand up and was clearly in a lot of pain.

“They contacted us to ask whether we could help him. We said yes,” said Panos Stefanou, communication director at Arcturos. As soon as the young bear arrived in Greece he was transferred to the veterinary department of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University to undergo a series of medical tests. At first the mood was upbeat, with specialists hoping his injuries would heal without problem. Usko was placed in a small cage to make sure he wouldn’t move too much, but two months later there was no improvement.

“We didn’t know how he was injured, only that it was a difficult spot to heal. Given that young bears survive tree falls, we believe the trauma was caused by some kind of human contact. If he had been born with the injury he would not have survived that long. Also, his injuries were not consistent with the kind he would have sustained if he had been hit by a vehicle, so we can rule that out.”

Nonprofit organization Arcturos hosts rescued bears in a protected environment that resembles their natural habitat. Human contact is kept to a minimum. But Usko was a special case. Without assistance, the bear would have been unable to survive. He needed medicine and medical care on a daily basis. That’s when the idea of getting him a wheelchair surfaced.

“There was plenty to consider; wheelchairs are not exactly a standard response when it comes to injured wild animals. As far as we know, Usko is the first bear ever to use a wheelchair,” noted Stefanou. The bear reacted positively to the wheelchair right away and began to move around. “Generally speaking, he is very playful and has a great appetite for life. That was another reason we decided to go the extra mile for him.”

A year and half later, Usko is on his third wheelchair – all three were custom-made for the young bear as he grew. He lives in a special refuge with flat surfaces that allow him to roam around freely, while he also has his own swimming pool, given that he is an avid water lover. A total of 19 bears live on the Arcturos premises. Thanks to the organization’s efforts and national measures implemented for the protection of the species, Greece’s brown bear population currently stands at 450 animals.

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