The traveling show took place in the Republic of Karelia, a region in northwest Russia, CNN reports. The muzzled bear had been performing the act called “Clubfoot and the Garden Wheelbarrow” in a circus tent that was filled with seated spectators, including children. Clips from the event show a handler guiding the bear across the mat, while it pushes a wheelbarrow and walks upright. Then, suddenly, it lunges at the handler and knocks him to the ground. A second circus staff member runs over and kicks the bear in the flank and shoulder, to the audience’s horror.
The bear was ultimately restrained. The handler and audience were unharmed.
A spokeswoman from the circus said the bear belonged to the handler, and the act had been axed from the show: “After [the incident], we decided to part with the artist, and the act will be removed from the program,” she said, according to state-run news agency TASS. “There is nothing serious, the artist is alright, the bear is alright, nobody killed the bear because the animal is not to blame.”
Circus representatives indicated the bear might have been agitated and attacked because it was scared by flash photography from the audience. The circus was supposed to continue on to another Russian city, but has stopped its tour.
Local officials are investigating the incident. Karelia's human and children's rights commissioner, Gennady Saraev told TASS he would look into current legislation regarding public safety at such events.
While animal circus shows have long been popular in Russia, there’s evidence this is changing. In May, a city mayor in southern Russia forbid circuses that use wild animals due to ethical reasons.