A traveling circus in northern Italy is facing possible charges for both animal cruelty and fraud after it was revealed that two small pandas being paraded before paying guests were actually puppies in disguise.
Concerned over the potential mistreatment of animals by the Orfei Circus in the town of Brescia, a team from the group Animal Protection Party went undercover to investigate. They soon discovered that not all was as it seemed.
"At the entrance of the circus were two animals who were presented as panda cubs. The staff invited families to take pictures of children in the company of those sweet fur balls. But when our volunteers approached, they realized that those animals had nothing to do with the pandas. It was, in reality, two chow chows painted black and white to look like pandas," the group's president Fabrizio Catelli told newspaper Giornalettismo.
"We consider it unacceptable that the animals are ridiculed for the pleasure of others, and not least for economic reasons."
After authorities were alerted to the situation, officers from the Italian State Forestry Corps raided the circus, seized the two puppies and took them to a veterinary clinic for a health check. As thelocal.it reports, the animals are said to be in good condition, aside from having watery eyes, which were "probably aggravated by the continuous exposure to camera flashes."
Pending an investigation into whether the circus committed acts of animal cruelty, falsified documentation and defrauded customers, the puppies will remain with their handlers at the circus for the time being, officials say, under the condition that they will not be used in future performances.
(Facebook/Italian State Forestry Corps)