Tragic story of the 'world's loneliest bear'

After 12 long years trapped behind bars in brutal captivity, Jambolina was finally given a taste of freedom in May last year when she was able to bound joyously over the luscious Swiss Alps.

But relief for the campaigners, who had fought for years for the release of the so-called 'World's Loneliest Bear', quickly turned to heartbreak when she died just two months later.

Haunting photos of the caged European brown bear looking forlornly between the narrow metal bars of her tiny enclosure had sparked an outpouring of fury at the appalling conditions she was kept in.

The life-long circus performer was only ever wheeled out from her filthy prison to perform tricks to adoring crowds in Ukraine, never even meeting another one of her own kind.

Jambolina's harrowing tale so moved animal campaigners that they desperately battled with the Ukrainian circus to demand her release from the squalor and degradation.

When Covid swept across the world, billions were confined to their homes but the pandemic suddenly gave Jambolina a shot at freedom.

The rampaging virus halted circus performances and zoo bosses finally caved in and unlocked her cage, bringing an end to her torturous 12-year sentence.

But tragically, Jambolina was only able to enjoy a few weeks of unimpeded bliss in the Swiss Alps when she died suddenly during a routine operation.

Jambolina's sad story began at just a few weeks old, when the tragic European brown bear was born to captive bears kept on display at a Crimean zoo.  She was immediately taken away from her parents and sold to a circus.

The growing bear was imprisoned in a small cage and trained to perform tricks, using methods that campaigners say amount to torture. 

Private ownership of bears in Ukraine is possible as long as they are not captured in the wild and are cubs from bears already in captivity.

Cages are required to be a minimum of 322sqft (30 square metres) and 10ft (three metres) high but there is little monitoring or punishment for breaches of the regulations.

She never saw another bear or was allowed to engage in any natural behaviour. 

While she delighted crowds everywhere she went, she also horrified animal lovers around the world concerned for her welfare. 

However, all that changed with the arrival of the Covid pandemic which meant the circus could no longer stage performances.

Unable to earn money, Jambolina's owner was forced to get rid of her because he could not afford to feed and care for her.

Four Paws animal charity agreed to rescue the bear, and on December 8, 2021, she was sedated and loaded into a crate so she could be taken to Switzerland.

The owner had said by this point, Jambolina could hardly move at all and suffered from lack of exercise and boredom, and asked the charity to give her a 'a good life'. 

It took four days to move her more than 1,500 miles to the Swiss Alps, where she was given a new home at the Arosa Bear Land sanctuary.

Despite having never hibernated in captivity, Jambolina's natural instincts quickly kicked in in Switzerland and she settled down for her first-ever winter nap in December, 2021.

After waking in May last year, she took her first nervous steps and was introduced to the first bear companion she had ever known - a male called Meimo who also lived on the reserve since being rescued from captivity in the Albanian city of Shkodra in February 2019.

Scientific director of the Arosa Bear Land Dr Hans Schmid said: 'We expected this behaviour and it is completely natural. Scepticism is an important survival strategy for animals and humans.'

But after making a few hesitant steps and sniffing the outdoor environment, Jambolina headed towards the pond and took a long bath.

She was then pictured playing with a male bear called Meimo who also lived on the reserve since being rescued from captivity in the Albanian city of Shkodra in February 2019.

After their combat, Jambolina laid on her back which according to experts meant she felt comfortable with the new situation as the two bears then treated themselves to a bath.

The animal keepers described Jambolina as brave and clever and said: 'We are not surprised by Jambolina's behaviour and we are very pleased that she could find her way around the outdoor area after a short time.'

Four Paws Country Manager in Switzerland Alexandra Mandoki said: 'Moments like this give me goosebumps and it's just incredibly beautiful to see how we can give the bears a new life.' 

To ensure the pair would not breed, staff needed to have Jambolina sterilised and also needed to carry out a dental reconstruction to undo years of damage caused in captivity, which would allow her to live a full life.

A team of experienced vets was assembled for the task, and on August 5 they sedated Jambolina to carry out the routine procedures.

However, shortly after being given an anesthetic, Jambolina stopped breathing and medics were unable to revive her. 

'It is with heavy hearts and deepest sadness that we have to inform you that Jambolina suddenly and unexpectedly passed away,' a spokesman for animal charity Four Paws wrote on social media.

'Despite all efforts to resuscitate her, she unfortunately passed away. We are currently investigating what caused Jambolina's death.'