Animal rights activists knew about the death of a young brown bear a month ago in Terjenli, a village in northeastern Iran. But an amateur video that surfaced on October 2 has cast new light on the situation, exposing the forest rangers who were supposed to protect the bear as its killers. The footage has caused a scandal in Iran, where this type of bear is an endangered species.

On September 5, forest rangers in Golestan province announced that a “sick brown bear” had attacked a local man and had died the following day at the vet’s. On September 7, the rangers announced to media that they had buried the animal after ensuring that its body was not carrying dangerous viruses.

But the real story of the bear’s death later came to light, thanks to amateur photos and footage published by an unknown source and sent around on Telegram, an Iranian messaging app.

The young bear that was supposed to have died as a result of disease, according to the forest rangers. Tranquiliser darts are clearly visible in its neck and underside..

"The forest rangers tried to hide the fact that they had killed the bear"

Our Observer Shima (not her real name) is a local activist and a specialist in ecology. She explains the truth about Iran’s ‘Beargate’.

On September 9, photos of the dead baby bear came out in the media, and you could see that its chest had been shot with two tranquiliser bullets. It was dead and had obviously not been taken to a vet.

There is no vet in that region, so the rangers had just called one and asked about the correct dosage of the tranquiliser, because they had no prior knowledge or experience in shooting tranquiliser darts. There are very strict rules for using tranquiliser darts, but they hadn't followed them.

So we think that there was either an overdose or the bullets were shot in the wrong part of its body – like its heart. After people found out that a bear had been killed, ranger officials tried to justify it, saying that the animal was diseased and even had rabies so they were obliged to bury it quickly. But actually they just wanted to hide the truth.

And in spite of what they said, lots of media said that the bear was healthy, using sample statistics to prove it.

"Forest rangers, who are supposed to save the animal’s life, beat it up with sticks"

On October 1, a new video distributed by a journalist gave a little bit more information about what had happened.



Our Observer explains what you can see in the video.

As you can see in the video, after shooting the tranquilisers, the rangers didn’t actually give enough time for the drug to start working. Then someone who wasn’t part of the ranger team started to approach the bear. The bear was stressed and attacked him.

The rangers lied again about this: they didn’t explain that this person was actually a member of the village council for Terjenli village, and was the person who had originally been complaining about the bear and asking the authorities to chase it away from the outskirts of the village.

So this village council member behaved irresponsibly by going up to the bear, and the rangers responded by beating the bear up with sticks and kicking it. In the video you can hear gunshots, although it’s not clear whether they are shooting at the bear or into the air.

So far, we still don’t know for sure what led to the animal’s death: because of an overdose of the drug, because it was beaten up, or because it was injured by bullets. But it was definitely the forest rangers that killed it.


A leopard and a deer already fell victim to
the same rangers

And it is not the first time these forest rangers have actually harmed wildlife, according to our Observer.

Last year when these [same] rangers tried to rescue a roe dear that was trapped in a mine, they ended up killing it. The animal suffocated because they tried to put a rope around its neck and it was too tight - they strangled it. But the most famous example of their ineptitude is the ‘Hirkan’ case.

Hirkan was the name of a Persian leopard [the Persian leopard, also known as a Caucasian leopard, is listed as an endangered species] which had been found in 2014 when it was still a cub, and was raised in a specially designed wildlife habitat. In 2016, officials decided to release it in the Golestan National Park — but this poor animal only survived 35 days.

However, the forest rangers kept moving its GPS tracker themselves for 9 months to hide the fact that it had died. They did this because they had been allocated a specific budget for taking care of this leopard. Surprisingly, no one was charged or questioned; only the local director of the Department of Environment resigned. If they had fired all of the perpetrators of these deadly crimes, this poor bear would be alive now.

On Monday October 2, the director of the Department of the Environment, Isa Kalantari, ordered an investigation to be opened and for the perpetrators to be punished.

This particular species of brown bear is a “Syrian brown bear”, which is a subspecies of brown bear classified as “vulnerable” to extinction in Iran and other countries in Eurasia and the Middle East such as Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.

Article written with
Alijani Ershad

Alijani Ershad , Journaliste