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Bear Forced Onto Field To 'Entertain' Russian Soccer Fans

"The sight of this poor bear, forced to perform tricks for the crowd, should shame us all.”

On Saturday, fans at a soccer game in Russia were "surprised" by an unexpected guest: a captive bear who was brought onto the field to deliver the ball.

In a video of the performance, a trainer walked the bear onto the track surrounding the field while the crowd applauded. Then the trainer directed the bear to sit on his hind legs and clap his front paws together. When the bear did what he was told, the trainer gave him a small piece of food. After that, the bear was instructed to take a soccer ball and deliver it to one of the players, which incited more cheers from the audience.

But not everyone was impressed. The video quickly went viral, with many fans and viewers criticizing organizers for promoting a display that likely wasn’t much fun for the captive bear — whose name is Tim, and who belongs to a Russian traveling circus.

“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. “What may appear to a spectator to be a few moments of levity at the beginning of an athletic competition 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. There is simply no place in sport for wild animal mascots.”

Trainer feeding captive bear a treat
After Tim performed a trick, the trainer gave him a piece of food. | YouTube/ESPN UK

Traveling circuses are known for their brutal training processes and difficult living circumstances for the animals. During training sessions, animals may be whipped, hit or shocked with electrical prods. When they’re not performing, they’re tethered with chains or locked up inside tiny, barren enclosures. Not only that, but animals are subjected to traveling for long distances for the majority of the year, and they’re forced to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom inside tiny transport containers.

But it’s not just traveling circuses that treat animals poorly — animals who perform at zoos or entertainment parks are subjected to the same kind of cruelty. Last year, footage emerged of a trainer kicking a moon bear while “training” him for a performance at a Chinese zoo.

Cassandra Koenen, head of wildlife campaigns at World Animal Protection, is certain that Tim was trained in an inhumane way based on the performance.

Bear on football field
Tim the bear performing in the soccer stadium | YouTube/ESPN UK

“It’s clear that cruel training methods have been used to make this bear submissive enough to perform on command,” Koenen said in a statement provided to The Dodo. “All too often, wild animals used for entertainment are taken from their mothers at a young age, crammed into tiny cages or chained for long periods while they wait for their next performance. This is a far cry from their natural lives in the wild.”

Bringing a bear into a public space like a soccer field is also dangerous, Koenen explained.

Captive bear holding ball between his paws
Tim the bear holding the soccer ball between his paws | YouTube/ESPN UK

“Bears, like most wild animals, are highly unpredictable and people around the world have been mauled or attacked by these animals, underlining that show business is no career for a wild animal,” she said.

The video also highlights animal welfare concerns about Russia’s hosting of the World Cup, which is due to start in two months. Russia has already come under fire for its plans to kill thousands of street dogs before World Cup visitors arrive — the same thing happened before the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.

Soccer playing taking ball from captive bear
Tim "handing" the soccer ball to one of the players | YouTube/ESPN UK

During Tim’s performance, the stadium announcer told the crowd that the bear would actually perform at the World Cup. Angusht, one of the Russian soccer teams playing in this game, said the same thing in a social media post. However, the BBC reports that FIFA tournament organizers have denied that claim.

While animal welfare advocates find the footage of Tim’s performance to be disheartening, they’re hoping that increased awareness will lead to positive change for performing animals like Tim — not only in Russia, but around the world, including in the U.S.

"The sight of this poor bear, forced to perform tricks for the crowd, should shame us all,” Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International (ADI), said in a statement provided to The Dodo. “An incredible, intelligent and inquisitive wild animal reduced to a figure of fun. All that we learn from using animals in entertainment are the reasons why it must stop. Avoid these sickening shows and support the efforts of ADI and others to stop circus suffering.”

To help bears who have been rescued from circuses, you can make a donation to Four Paws International.