6 min read

Circus Bear Beaten With Sticks When He Gets Scared During Show

He had nowhere to hide.

In a new video, a brown bear is pushed down a ramp on a skateboard during a circus performance in Volgograd Oblast, Russia. When the bear reaches the bottom, a trainer yanks the chain attached to his head, trying to get him to do another trick. But the bear, who appears to be very scared, tries to dart away.

What happens next elicits panicked cries from the audience. A second trainer starts beating the bear with a stick while the first trainer tries holding onto the bear’s chain. The bear fights back, grabbing the trainer who’s beating him and tackling him to the ground. Then a third trainer enters the arena and beats the bear as well.

Eventually, the bear lets go of the trainer, who is able to stand up and walk away. The frightened bear huddles against the edge of the arena, rocking back and forth, looking even more scared than he was before.

This video, which seems to have been filmed by an audience member, has raised eyebrows in the animal welfare community, with many calling it an example of why wild animals like bears should not be used for entertainment purposes.

"Using wild animals in circuses is a recipe for disaster, putting animals and the public in harm’s way,” Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International (ADI), said in a statement after the video was released on Russian social media. “With animal welfare inevitably compromised and circuses unable to provide for their needs, it’s time for Russia to step up and take action to stop circus suffering before tragedy strikes.”  

The video was released in the midst of another scandal over Russia’s circus bears. In April, a video of a circus bear named Tim performing a trick on a Russian soccer field sparked international outrage — Tim was led onto the field before the game started, and prompted to clap and hand the soccer ball to one of the players. And three days ago after Russia’s World Cup victory, Tim made another public appearance when he was driven through the streets in Moscow, blowing into a vuvuzela while people gathered around the car, taking photos of the spectacle.

“It is sickening to see Tim the bear, or any wild animal, being exploited in this way, with absolute disregard for their well-being, their physical needs, and the safety of the public,” Creamer said about Tim’s latest appearance. “Thankfully, governments around the world are taking action to end such shameful scenes. For animals like poor Tim, change cannot come soon enough.”

Sadly, circus bears have to endure brutal training processes to perform the way they do — trainers will whip, hit or shock them with electric prods to get them to behave in certain ways. And when they’re not training or performing, they’re usually chained up or locked in tiny, barren cages.

Bear being beaten in circus performance
The bear being beaten during the circus performance in Volgograd Oblast, Russia | YouTube

“No wild animal should be used as a prop or forced to perform unnatural acts for our entertainment,” DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), told The Dodo in April. “What may appear to a spectator to be a few moments of levity ... conceals the true story of these animals’ lives. Theirs is a tedious, barren, wholly unnatural existence that all too often involves abusive training techniques, inadequate housing, and poor veterinary care.”

When animals get fed up or scared, they may retaliate and attack their trainers, which is what happened with the bear in the video. While it’s not clear what happened to him after the show, it’s likely that the trainer severely punished the bear for his behavior.

The best way to help these bears, as well as other circus animals, is not to buy a ticket to performances that use wild animals. You can also help investigations of animal exploitation by making a donation to ADI.