Two endangered Syrian brown bears were on Monday heading for a new life in the United States after being rescued from cramped conditions in a Lebanese zoo.
Homer and Ulysses, each aged 18 and weighing 130 kilograms, had been living in a zoo near the southern city of Tyre, animal rights association Animals Lebanon said.
The group arranged for the bears to be released "after convincing the zoo owner that they deserve better than the small cement cages they were kept in for over 10 years", Animals Lebanon said.
The bears were flown out of Beirut late on Sunday to being their journey to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in the US state of Colorado.
Syrian brown bears are a relatively small subspecies of the endangered brown bear, but no longer exist in the wild in Syria or Lebanon, the UK-based Bear Conservation group says.
Animals Lebanon director Jason Mier said the bears were probably imported from eastern Europe.
They were supposed to travel to the US in late 2019, but the trip was postponed amid banking restrictions linked to Lebanon's economic crisis and then the coronavirus pandemic.
Four Paws, an international organisation taking part in the relocation, said some of its members first met Homer and Ulysses in November 2019.
"Trapped in tiny cages, some smaller than a ping-pong table, the bears had no water, sporadic food and inadequate shelter from the weather," it said. "Both bears not only suffered from malnutrition but also extreme stress."
Mr Mier said he was aware of about 30 lions and tigers, as well as around 10 more bears, still kept as exotic pets and in private zoos in the Mediterranean country.