Two brown Himalayan bears neglected at a Pakistani zoo arrived on Thursday in Jordan after US music icon Cher took up the cause of an Asian elephant at the same zoo.
Their plight has shed light on the intricate diplomacy involved in animal welfare and the star power that can make rescues possible. Pakistani authorities are sensitive to suggestions that animals in their custody were being mistreated.
Female bear Suzie and her companion Bubloo were offloaded from a Qatari passenger plane into the cargo terminal of Amman airport. They arrived in white cages and had a shell shocked appearance after the one stop flight from Pakistan.
The media was asked to leave the airport as soon as they landed, indicating the sensitivity of the operation.
Jordanian veterinarian Abdelrahman Muayyad was waiting to take the bears to a minimum three-week quarantine on the outskirts of Amman. They will be tranquilised and then examined on their arrival into quarantine.
"Jordan is a new place for them and definitely they will see stress and some nervousness," Mr Muayyad told The National.
Once out of quarantine, the bears will be moved to Al Mawa for Nature and Wildlife, a sanctuary near the famed Roman ruins of Jerash, north of Amman.
There are already a total of 10 brown Syrian and black Asian bears at the reserve but Suzie and Bubloo will be kept separate from them.
Last month Kaavan, a 36-year old widowed elephant, made it from Islamabad Zoo to a wildlife sanctuary in northern Cambodia. Once there, he mingled with its species for the first time since his mate died in 2012.
Kaavan’s journey to a less lonely existence involved years of effort by popstar Cher.
She met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in November and thanked him “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia”.
Suzie the bear suffered from a botched operation to remove a tumour from her chest earlier this year.
The bear was critically ill before Four Paws International, an animal support organisation in Vienna, again operated on the 17-year old.
Mr Muayyad said the Jordanian keepers of Suzie and Bubloo will help them manage their stress levels and give them toys to take their minds away “from thinking of escape”.
“We will provide them with enough food and toys to reduce nervous signs they may have,” said Mr Muayyad, who has a pet rabbit called Mukhles (loyal).
The bears arrived to a relatively cold climate by Jordanian standards of around 5 degrees Celsius. Jordanian summer is scorching and the country is arid.
There will be heated dens waiting for them near Jerash, and in the summer they will have access to their own private swimming pool.
“Bears can surprisingly manage in any temperature orbit,” Mr Muayyad said.
Four Paws transported the two bears to Jordan. The organisation also helped set up the sanctuary near Jerash, together with the Princess Alia Foundation, overseen by King’s Abdullah’s elder half-sister Alia.
Pakistani authorities had reportedly been reluctant to let the two bears, and the elephant Kaavan, leave Pakistan for fear of damage to their image.
Jordan has good relationships with Pakistan and princess Sarvath, the wife of former Jordanian crown prince Hassan, uncle of the king, has strong links to Pakistan.
Jordan, which has a population of 10 million people, is not known to be an animal friendly country. Street cats go hungry in Amman and may die from parasitic diseases that could be easily treated or prevented, veterinarians say. Farm animals, especially donkeys, are malnourished and overworked.
But members of the royal family have keen interest in horses and have promoted animal welfare. Donor funding for animal shelters helped somewhat mitigate in the last two decades animal maltreatment, but it remains perceived as fairly common.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the US government stopped supplying Jordanian authorities with bomb-detecting dogs after two dogs died in Jordanian custody.
One dog died from poisoning by insecticide and another from a heat stroke. The ban also covered Egypt, where US officials observed similar neglect and maltreatment of the highly trained dogs.