Prison’s Dangerous New And Unlikely Inmate Has Protesters Taking To The Streets

The law is generally pretty clear when it comes to a few rules: don’t steal anything, don’t go where you’re not allowed, and don’t harm anybody. Break any of these rules, and face a fine, a night in jail, or even a lifetime in prison.

This philosophy was complicated quite a bit, however, when it was an animal that broke one of these cardinal rules. Unable to deliver a practical application of justice, officials made a controversial call about the bear that had animal activists up in arms.

Animals in cages are never a fun sight, but imagine what it is like for them: being locked up in a man-made structure for simply existing, not knowing if they’ll ever get to leave and live freely again…

Even us humans don’t like feeling caged. When it rains, we feel stuck inside our homes while all we want to do is leave. Sure, it’s alright to be holed up in small spaces when it’s our choice, but every creature needs its freedom.

That is why a brown bear named Ekaterina was more than thrilled when she was finally allowed to leave the circus. For years, she had danced and growled and performed tricks, and to say she’d gotten sick of it would be an understatement.

Sadly, her owners weren’t planning to simply set her free. Instead, they sold her to a local campsite in Kazakhstan where she would serve as an attraction for those who wanted to experience the wilder side of nature.

So while Ekaterina was no longer forced to perform, she was still used for amusement. Day in and day out, campers gawked at her, yelled at her, and threw things at her. Was she actually better off in her new home?

Then, one day, a little boy recognized the animal from his stuffed teddy bear. Assuming Ekaterina would be just as sweet and cuddly as his toy, he tried to feed her something through the cage, but he was in for a surprise…

Within seconds, Ekaterina had stuck her paw out through the cage and grabbed the little boy by his t-shirt. Luckily, the boy walked away with nothing but a scratch and a scare. Still, officials opted to watch Ekaterina more closely.

This time, Ekaterina wasn’t punished for her actions. But when an older drunk camper tried shaking the bear’s paw a few years later, she reacted like you’d expect a caged animal might.

Understandably, she truly lashed out this time and mauled the man who had ignored the warning signs around her cage and tried to grab her. A few roars, claws, and teeth marks later, the man was rapidly rushed to the hospital.

Although the mauled man was at fault for trying to interact so closely with a caged brown bear, he still pressed charges due to his injuries. When nobody wanted to take the risk of adopting Ekaterina, her fate was sealed…

The owners of the campsite called animal control, who tranquilized the giant mammal and took her away. They tried to pawn her off to some zoos, but she now had a reputation for being aggressive, so they took her elsewhere.

Once Ekaterina woke up, she found herself inside a cage once again, but this time it was part of a much larger cage — she had been sentenced to life in prison, along with 730 of Kazakhstan’s most dangerous criminals.

Surprisingly enough, the human prisoners of the UK-161/2 penal colony actually loved having their furry fellow inmate around. After all, prison can get pretty boring, and having a wild animal there would spice up the men’s days.

The prison, which is right outside of the city Kostanay, claimed to be taking good care of Ekaterina. Officials stated that they feed her plenty, give her toys, and that there is even a pool in her cage. None of that is apparent from their photos of her.

Still, they insisted she was happy and healthy. “She is friendly,” said colony head Aslan Medybayev. “Other prisoners visit her. She woke up about a month ago from her annual hibernation. Now she feels good, and runs, jumps.”

“She is calm, not aggressive,” one prisoner said. “She adores sweet things that prisoners give her — sweets, biscuits, apples. Of course, communicating with an animal brightens my time here, makes it not so painful.”

Although she might seem content, bears definitely get lonely on their own, but it doesn’t look like she’ll have a conjugal visit anytime soon. “Sadly we cannot take a male bear to her,” said prison deputy head of educational work, Azamat Gapbasov.

So will she stay there permanently? “We have no plans to relocate Katya,” said Gabpasov. “She has already become a symbol of our colony, we have gotten used to her and we will not give her to anyone.” But many people are angry about the bear’s new life in captivity.

Animal rights activists from all over the world protested after hearing about Ekaterina’s punishment. After all, a bear doesn’t understand rules about not mauling anyone and shouldn’t have been caged for entertainment in the first place.

Hopefully, with enough activism on Ekaterina’s side, she will one day become a free bear again, or at least live out her days at a healthy sanctuary. After all, we’ve seen what protests have done for other caged animals.

Back in 2016, for instance, a mall opened in Guangzhou, China, called the Grandview Shopping Mall. It was supposed to be the city’s new pride and joy, boosting the economy through retail and tourism. That wish did not entirely come true.

To make Grandview stand out, it was designed to be much larger than your average shopping mall, and any space that was unoccupied by stores was to be used for entertainment.

While art displays, games, or performances are a wonderful way to amuse the customers, the creators of Grandview had something else in mind: aquariums – large in the eyes of onlookers, but small for the animals trapped inside.

See, these were not large tanks filled with small fish and crabs. The captive animals were all separated, and most of them lived entirely alone. Behind the glass walls dwelled beluga whales, walruses, wolves, and one very unhappy bear… 

Meet the world’s saddest polar bear, Pizza, who was living in the mall and serving as entertainment for passing shoppers. There, he quickly grew anxious, scared, and lonely, but nobody seemed to care.

Not only are polar bears supposed to live in packs, but they’re meant to roam much further than the estimated 52ft² they get per Grandview enclosure. There was hardly any space to run around or swim at all.

“One bear paced back and forth, displaying behavior that experts say reflects stress and possible psychological problems,” The Washington Post described. “Wolves lay listlessly while belugas swam back and forth in confined spaces.”

To make matters worse, the mall was open from 10 am until 10:30 pm almost every single day, and there was nowhere for these creatures to hide from the thousands of prying eyes that came to see them. 

People banged on the glass, used flash photography, and crowded around the restless animals. The sad part was, that was the only thing that kept the caged tenants occupied. There were no toys or games – only emptiness and chaos.

Pizza the bear was the mall’s favorite furry attraction, which caused him a lot of suffering. But this eventually worked to his advantage. You see, people began posting pictures of him online — and internet outrage ensued.

Angry animal lovers were calling the enclosures a “prison” and urged for Pizza to be removed from the mall. Animal rights group Animals Asia even launched a petition to close all the aquariums in the mall and got 270,000 signatures.

“Taking animals from their natural environments is never right, but when they’re re-homed in conditions like these, it’s the worst situation,” said a group spokesman. “We all need to continue to publicly object to such facilities.”

The problem was that laws around animal rights are fairly lax in China. They must be fed and get medical treatment if needed, but the happiness of these creatures is not required for their captivity to be legal.

Many non-profit organizations offered to take Pizza in and give him a better life, including a large wildlife park in England, but the owners of Grandview weren’t ready to part with their most prized asset.

Still, Grandview did seem to bend under all the social pressure. Only a few months later, they released a statement saying Pizza would be relocated so they could expand his enclosure.

Luckily, Pizza’s temporary living quarters would be in his birthplace: Tianjin Haichang Polar Ocean World in northern China. They would provide him with a larger enclosure, toys, and some very special company…

 As it so happened, Pizza’s mom was still living at the Ocean World and would once again be sharing an enclosure with her son! The two were ecstatic to see each other after all this time. They didn’t have to be alone anymore.

Even though Pizza was set to return to Grandview in 2017, he has remained in Tianjin to this day. Every day, he bonded with his mama bear, played with cones and buckets, and caught fish tossed by his caretakers.

“To see this bear playing and not focused on pattern behavior, that made me really happy,” said a program officer from National Geographic. “He looks a million times better.”

It may not be the best place in the world for any bear, but at least in Tianjin, Pizza no longer suffered for selfies. But let’s not forget the other animals who still live in the Grandview Mall – with enough petitions, hopefully, they too will soon see happier days!

Of course, it’s not only captive polar bears who need a helping paw sometimes. Mankind has indirectly caused a great amount of other trouble: hunting, melting ice caps, fishing, and boating often end up hurting Arctic wildlife.

In the summer of 2015, an Inuit tour guide named Rolan Warrior brought tourists to the Beaufort Sea barrier island just outside his home city of Kaktovik, Alaska. There, the travelers hoped to see something incredible: polar bears.

Wild Alaska Travel

More specifically, the southern visitors wanted to see a wild polar bear up close and personal. For anyone who didn’t spend their time in the Arctic Circle, that would be a completely foreign sight.

Arctic Kingdom

The best—or worst—part about the day trips led by Inuits was that you never knew what was going to happen. In that line of work, danger was never far. No one learned that better than Rolan’s tour group, who saw something unforgettable…

Kaktovik Tours / YouTube

Out in the freezing Arctic waters, village guests got what they wished for: a large male polar bear—called a nanuq by the local Inuit tribe—was lingering in the water not far from shore. But something was wrong…

National Geographic

Tourists fell into complete shock when they saw that the polar had become entangled in a fishing net meant for catching beluga whales and was struggling to keep from drowning! They had to help the poor animal. But how could they?

Flora Rexford, a Kaktovik resident and teacher, described what happened next to The Anchorage Daily News: “My dad and mom got into their boat,” she began. She described how, along with the man who owned the net, her parents raced towards the bear.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

But trying to subdue a powerful bear frightened for his life sounded like the first step towards an early grave. The trio knew better—so they waited for the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lend a hand.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

From a helicopter circling above, the biologists tranquilized the struggling polar bear with a dart. Only then could Flora’s parents and the net’s owner get close enough to the bear to make a rescue.

Packer Expeditions

While the tranquilizers took effect, the trio in the boat did their best to keep the polar bear from sinking under the surface of the frigid waters. Then, carefully navigating the icy waters, the rescuers tried moving the big guy to shore—but that was tough!

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

Polar bears are extremely heavy animals – an adult male can weigh a minimum of 1,200 pounds! This guy certainly wasn’t helping the Inuits carry much of his dead weight, either, what with being knocked out.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

It was especially challenging for this group of hopeful rescuers because they had to keep the polar bear’s head above water the entire time—a tough task on its own, since the bear was clearly exhausted.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

After a long struggle, the trio finally hauled the polar bear on to the shore. Dazed and exhausted, he sprawled out on the rocky beach. Luckily, some local biologists showed up and were ready to examine the bear. How badly was he hurt?

U.S. Geological Survey / Facebook

Right away, they removed the net from the still-sedated polar bear; then, they checked him for any injuries, both internal and external. To their relief, he had avoided suffering anything serious.

U.S. Geological Survey / Facebook

With the net removed and the bear injury-free, the Inuits and biologists allowed the animal to return to the wilderness. “I guess it ended up swimming out toward the sea,” Flora said after the grateful animal was freed.

On the surface, this looked like a simple rescue. Those who lived among polar bears and interacted with them regularly protected them, too. So why was this any different? Well, the senior director of conservation of Polar Bears International, Geoff York, offered some insight…

The Uproar

“From rescue to conflict reduction efforts, Northern communities play an important role in the conservation of polar bears,” Geoff said. “They are on the ground 24/7 and have important experience and perspectives passed down from generations untold.” But that wasn’t all…

Geoff continued: “It’s great to see local people and scientists come together to solve a clear problem. In this time of unprecedented change, we need more collaboration across the Arctic and across groups.” In other words?


While this rescue may have affected only one polar bear, the Inuits acted in a way that was crucial to preserving the species as a whole. At the time of the rescue, prospects for polar bears as a species looked quite grim…

Wild Alaska Travel

From 2001 to 2010, the polar bear population in southern Beaufort Sea — the water just north of Alaska — declined from 1,500 to 900. That’s a whopping 40 percent! So that one bear’s safe rescue made quite an impact on the species!

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