7 min read

Wild Bears Dragged Around Circus By Muzzles To Make Them 'Dance'

You'll never guess where they live when they're not performing.

At a circus performance in Ohio, two brown bears wearing costumes dance across a stage on their hind legs. But the bears aren’t doing this of their own accord — trainers yank and pull the bears by ropes attached to their muzzled snouts, forcing the animals to run, hop and prance. The trainers also carry whips to discipline the bears if the need arises.

In February, a woman named Sherry Drescher filmed this performance at the Antioch Shrine Circus in Dayton, Ohio. Then Animal Defenders International (ADI), an animal welfare organization, shared Drescher’s footage on its Facebook page.

The video spurred quite a reaction from viewers, most of whom were appalled by the circus’ treatment of the bears.

“I can’t believe animals are still being used in circuses anywhere in the world, especially in the USA,” one commenter said on Facebook. “Let animals be animals and be left alone to live their lives as they wish in their natural habitat. They are not here for our entertainment!”

Bears being forced to dance and perform in a circus
ADI

“This is the ultimate abuse and humiliation of these majestic animals,” another commenter said.

Lesley McCave, communications director for ADI, explained that the two bears had been provided to Antioch Shrine Circus by Hall’s Bears, a company that rents out animals for circus performances.

Trainer with circus bear during a performance
ADI

“The circus provider typically signs contracts with a select set of animal (and human) acts each season, therefore changing the entertainment from year to year for the repeat audiences,” McCave told The Dodo. “For example, one year [they] have bears, horses and the cannonball guy, and the next year [they] bring tigers, elephants and a trapeze artist.”

In 2013, ADI investigated Hall’s Bears to see how the company treated its animals, and was shocked to discover that animals were being kept in tiny cages inside a trailer when not performing

Tiny cage in trailer
When they're not performing, bears owned by Hall's Bears are locked up in tiny cages in a trailer — ADI got footage in 2013. | ADI

“According to ADI’s investigation into Hall’s Bears, their time outside these miserable prison cells generally averages just 10 minutes a day on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends,” McCave said. “After being forced to perform, they are led back to the 24-foot long trailer and caged again. The windows of the trailer are approximately 10 to 11 feet off the ground, covered in thick steel mesh, high above the bears’ heads so there is no view for them to look out.”

Circus bears being trained
A bear being trained to perform by Hall's Bears in 2013 | ADI

Besides being kept in substandard enclosures, circus animals are also commonly mistreated and abused while being trained. While no footage has been obtained of the brown bears being trained to dance for the Antioch Shrine Circus, McCave is certain that they would have been subjected to cruel training methods.

“Our investigations reveal methods of fear, intimidation, violence, emotional deprivation and withholding food, in order to force exotic and wild animals to perform,” McCave said.

A bear (owned by Hall's Bears) performing in 2013 | ADI

“Bears are known for their intelligence and inquisitive nature,” McCave added. “Within the traveling circus environment, they can spend 90 percent of their time caged in a truck, deprived of almost everything that is natural to them, including the ability to forage and enjoy social contact with other bears. As a result, they suffer terribly and show high levels of abnormal behavior, such as repetitive head-tossing and pacing behavior, which is considered ‘frustrated attempts to escape’ by animals that, in the wild, have a large home range.”

Bears performing in a circus
The two brown bears performing at the Antioch Shrine Circus in Dayton, Ohio | ADI

To help circus animals like the brown bears used in the Antioch Shrine Circus, the best thing to do is not to buy a ticket to any performance that uses wild animals, according to McCave. It’s also important to share with politicians your concern about wild animals being used in performances — a practice that’s already been banned in places like Los Angeles and New York state.

Woman performing with dancing bear
ADI

“We hope that once they [audiences] learn about the deplorable conditions these intelligent creatures are kept in, they will choose to stop visiting circuses that use wild animals in their acts,” McCave said. “There are many other entertainment options available to the public, including the likes of Cirque du Soleil, which is thriving, despite only using humans in its acts.”

To help put a stop to circuses and other performances that use wild animals, call your state representatives and voice your concern. You can also support investigations of circuses by making a donation to ADI.