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Bongo , the black bear.

In June 2000, we were contacted by the Born Free Foundation (Virginia McKenna, et al.) to see if we could house a male black bear from the Noah's Ark Zoo, north of Milan in Italy. The zoo had been closed down for commercial redevelopment, and Bongo was the last animal remaining and in imminent danger of being destroyed which, of course, the Born Free Foundation wanted to avoid if at all possible.

To cut a long story short the Born Free Foundation, with the help of our website (which quickly and accurately portrayed and described our present enclosures for the D.E.T.R. in London), managed to 'fast-track' the decision making process to allow Bongo to be imported. He is now completing six months anti-rabies quarantine. We had tried to import him under the Balai Directive to avoid this lengthy procedure, but this would only have applied if the zoo he was being exported from was the same one he was born in, which wasn't the case.

Anyway, at the time of the one-day French air traffic controllers strike in the summer OF 2000, Bongo was flown from Milan to Heathrow. There, a quarantine truck and escort collected him and drove him up to Glasgow, arriving early the next morning. The Whitbread's Black Bear Beefeater at the Zoopark gate kindly provided complimentary breakfasts for everyone!

The whole operation was funded by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation! The previous evening a young lady with the unforgettable (for me!) name of Madamoiselle Renard (!) arrived at the Zoopark from Paris to check out our facilities. Because of the air traffic controllers, she had taken the train from Paris to Waterloo, a taxi to Heathrow, then the Shuttle, then another taxi to the Zoopark. Her return journey was much easier.

When a very nervous Bongo was 'un-crated' that morning, we were told the bad news; he had a perforated ulcer in one eye, and a melon-sized testicular tumour. The vet John Knight had tried to repair the eye, but it would be necessary to sedate Bongo again three or four weeks later (when the existing sedatives had been metabolised) and finish the job.

Sadly, four weeks later the eye was so infected it had to be removed, along with his testicles. When people ask me, 'How is Bongo?', it's hard to resist replying 'How would you be? - especially surrounded by four females!'

Seriously, we are hoping against hope that the cancer has not spread into secondaries on the liver, etc., which is a distinct possibility, unfortunately. Bongo is twenty-eight years old and, whilst we hope for a miracle, the prognosis is not very good.

At the time of writing (November 2000), the four females (two groups of two!!) are entering hibernation. This requires one large den, for two. Bongo is occupying two dens, and as he doesn't complete his quarantine until mid-December, we are having some minor 'logistical problems'!