These Viral, Graphic Incidents Prove It: Animals Don’t Belong in Circuses

5 min read

How many times does an “animal snaps at circus handler” video need to go viral before circuses everywhere stop exploiting animals for entertainment? (Spoiler: The answer should be “zero.”) No one needed these latest examples of the cruelty and stupidity of forcing animals to perform, but we got them anyway—and they’re difficult to ignore:

July 2021

An “unforgettable” show and a “surprise” for every Russian city that it visits—according to the New York Post, that’s what the Harlequin Traveling Circus promised its audiences. Indeed, the attendees of the July 17 show will likely never forget the moment when a bear dressed in a hat and a purple scarf snapped and lunged at a handler, mauling her and dragging her by her leg. After some time, another handler yanked the animal off—but spectators were in for another surprise when, later on in the show, the bear swiped at the same handler again. A third mauling reportedly took place, too.

A spokesperson for the circus apparently tried to pass the buck, blaming the attacks on “mating season” for the bears. But she also claimed that “[t]here was no incident whatsoever”—a denial as absurd as the outfit that the distressed bear was forced to don.

It’s not shocking that this bear, dressed up and forced to entertain, would lash out—but it is appalling that animals are still being used as props and abused in circuses in 2021. Click the button below to help bears like this one, and keep scrolling to help PETA make all animal-abusing circus acts things of the past.

May 2021

In Russia, a female lion named Bega mauled a circus handler who was wielding a crop. The May 27 incident was caught on camera, and the crowd can be heard shrieking as Bega pounces on the handler, who repeatedly whips the big cat in the face and elsewhere with his weapon. The shocked audience reportedly included a pregnant woman who suffered a seizure after witnessing the disturbing attack.

The only whip that should be used is one that cracks down on using lions like this one and all other animals in circuses.

March 2021

On March 22, spectators at another circus in Russia panicked as two seemingly distressed elephants tussled, rushing the crowd, creating chaos among audience members, and provoking a subsequent outcry from animal rights activists—including those at PETA. “[T]he pandemic and the lack of socialising with viewers have of course affected the animals,” the circus’ staff tried to claim, but we know better. “Science tells us that the complex needs of animals can never be met in a circus environment, so it’s hardly surprising when they ‘snap’ after years of being restrained and abused by cruel trainers,” PETA U.K. Director Elisa Allen said in response to the incident.

October 2020

A black bear was made to take part in a circus performance in central China on October 2. When audience members reportedly threw food on stage, he naturally tried to eat what was in front of him. But the bear’s handler reportedly beat him to prevent him from “eating [the] treats,” causing the animal to lash out in frustration and defensiveness. Another circus staff member forcefully hit the bear on the head with his palm, then a third staff member appeared and beat him with a large shovel, and, finally, a fourth joined in, whacking him with a stick, as if he were hitting a ball with a bat. The bear’s teeth had reportedly been sawed off when he was a cub, something that’s apparently done in anticipation of incidents like this.

July 2019

On July 4, prior to a Circo Orfei show in Italy, four tigers pounced on 61-year-old Ettore Weber, the trainer who’d been forcing them to perform demeaning tricks, killing him. Medics and fellow human performers reportedly watched in horror as the tigers played with the circus trainer’s maimed body for about 30 minutes.

October 2019

A bear forced to walk on his hind legs and push a wheelbarrow snapped, attacking a handler in a crowded circus mid-show. The incident, which reportedly occurred in Russia during Anshlag Tent Circus’ “Bow-Legged and the Wheelbarrow” performance, was caught on camera. In the video footage below, children can be heard screaming while the bear charges one handler and is kicked by another. There appears to be no safety barrier between the bear and spectators:

September 2018

During a performance in Magnitogorsk, Russia, featuring brother-and-sister duo Artur and Karina Bagdasarov, a crowd looked on in shock as Zena, a 6-year-old tiger, collapsed and began convulsing and seizing, right after she had been forced to jump through rings of fire. A whip-wielding handler, apparently Artur, can be seen yanking Zena by her tail in mid-seizure. Tigers are innately terrified of fire, yet they’re forced to jump through flaming hoops like this one by being whipped and beaten into performing—amid loud music, a noisy crowd, and unnatural lighting, no less.

June 2018

Two separate incidents—both during performances by circuses in Russia—served as unnecessary reminders that animals should never be forced to perform. First, a bear charged a handler after riding down a ramp on a skateboard. Other staff repeatedly beat the bear with sticks. Eventually, the handler crawled free, and the bear cowered in a corner. Apparently, the closest row of spectators was mere feet from the bear, without any barrier between them.

An audience at a circus elsewhere in Russia was in for a disturbing surprise, too: An ostrich, who had been berated by a handler, leapt into their midst.

February 2017

It’s the eyewitness footage that gets everyone every time: During a February 18 performance of the Tangier Shrine Circus outside Omaha, Nebraska, a bear urinated in apparent distress while being pulled by a leash and forced to walk on her front legs. Each time PETA tweets or posts the heart-rending video, millions watch, tens of thousands share it, and hundreds of people comment, saying things like “never went to a circus and never will!” and a very concise “Horrible.”


We shouldn’t be surprised when tigers act like tigers or bears act like bears.

Big cats and bears are big, dangerous predators who have teeth and claws, which they use to protect themselves. It’s not surprising when those who have been denied food, beaten, or whipped snap.

Animals should be left alone, free to roam their natural habitats—not imprisoned and exploited in circuses, forced to live in misery. Tigers used in circuses are often separated from their mothers long before they would naturally part, causing emotional distress for both mothers and cubs. Tigers, bears, and other animals victimized by the circus industry are forced to live inside cramped cages and are denied the opportunity to exercise, roam, socialize, forage, or play. They’re often forced to eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and urinate in the same place. Sometimes, the only time these animals are let out of cages is for their brief performances—when they’re subjected to whippings and roaring crowds.

Help PETA make animal-abusing circus acts a thing of the past.

We’ve made tons of progress on the circus front, but we still need your help. Please, never buy a ticket to a circus that uses animals—attend only those that exclusively use willing human performers. Click below to do more:

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