Abandoned in a forest: the story of Diego the bear
1st Jan 2024
Diego the bear recently found temporary refuge at Wildwood Devon after the closure of his home at Orsa Predator Park in Sweden. But this was not Diego's first rescue. His journey started 12 years ago when he was abandoned as a cub in a Swedish woodland. Hanse Hansson, the person behind Diego's initial rescue, shared his story with us...
Hanse Hansson’s day started out like any other. He was headed to his job tracking wildlife in the forests of his hometown Orsa, in Sweden, when a call came in from a colleague. “A bear cub has been spotted. It looks abandoned and needs help” the person on the other end of the line urged.
A seasoned conservationist and trained animal keeper, Hanse had a deep understanding of the of the intricate ecosystems that thrived within the dense forest. Yet bears were not his forte. Prior to Diego’s rescue, he had only ever rescued one bear, which had become trapped in a river, and that alone proved a major feat. As he headed in search of the cub, he became increasingly aware of the vast expanse of the forest compared with the contrastingly small size of the bear.
Photo: Hanse Hansson, Diego’s rescuer
“It felt like Mission Impossible” said Hanse, who eventually found himself employing the assistance of a friend who knew the valley extensively.
Together, the pair walked nearly two kilometres into the forest in search of the cub. His friend had already spotted Diego several times over the past couple of days and had a rough idea of where he might be. His help proved invaluable as they spotted the little bear in a clearing, near a river very similar to the one he had rescued the other bear from only a year before. From a distance, it was easy to see that he looked frightened and alone.
Hanse then found himself faced with another dilemma. How would he get close to Diego? He lowered himself to the ground and sneaked stealthily towards him, conscious that any sudden movements could frighten the already twitchy bear and cause him to flee.
“I managed to get close enough to see that he was very skinny. I did consider whether I should take him, but I could see that he was very worried so I made the decision there that he needed rescuing,” said Hanse.
Diego’s rescue. Credit: Hanse Hansson
With time and patience, Hanse was able to get close to the cub and catch him. His role as an animal keeper at Orsa Predator Park for ten years prior to the rescue had trained him well for a moment like this.
But Diego wasn’t going to come without a fight. The bear who has gained a reputation as a gentle giant here at Wildwood showed he had a feistier side to his personality.
“Diego screamed loudly at first. I had to turn him into me and carry him like a baby. Eventually he relaxed into me and it was easy to take him back to my car,” said Hanse.
Hanse took Diego Orsa Predator Park, where he could be cared for by his old and trusted colleagues. At just a few weeks old, the animal keepers confirmed that Diego was badly undernourished and required careful attention. For the most part, he needed food, which the keepers delivered in the form of a porridge consisting of dog food, cream and apples.
Diego settling down in his new enclosure at Wildwood
Asked his theory on why Diego was abandoned, Hanse says he believed that his mother crossed a nearby river and the current was too strong for Diego to get across. In truth, nobody really knows what happened to Diego. We can just be grateful was lucky enough to have been spotted by members of the public and rescued by Hanse.
In November, Diego journeyed to Wildwood following the closure of his home at Orsa Predator Park. Here Diego will stay as a temporary resident whilst undergoing torpor – a natural process similar to hibernation that causes bear’s bodily functions to slow down.
In time, Diego will move to his forever home and bear paradise at Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park in Suffolk, where he will be bound to capture the hearts of keepers, just as he has here in Wildwood and just as he did in Orsa.
Talking about Diego’s new life in the UK, Hanse said he was glad to hear that he will have a good life, and hopes to be able to come and visit him one day.
“I think I will struggle to carry him today though!” he laughed.
Wildwood Trust has become a leader in brown bear rescue and rehabilitation, having rescued bears as nearby as Kent and as far away as Bulgaria and Albania. Learn more about Wildwood's tireless effort to make a difference to the lives of brown bears: www.wildwoodtrust.org/brown-bear-rescue