Russian circus-goers watched a dramatic scene unfold on Thursday when an animal performer turned on its trainer.
In a video of the shocking incident, a 660-lb. bear tackles one trainer wearing a bright orange vest, biting and clawing the man. A second trainer begins kicking the animal in an attempt to free his colleague.
The attack, which happened in the northern Russia town of Olonets, came during a portion of the show called “Clubfoot and the Garden Wheelbarrow” — an act that has the bear push a wheelbarrow while on its hind legs, according to The New York Times.
Ruslan Solodyuk, the trainer mauled by the animal, told Russian news outlets that at 16 years old, the bear was on his final leg of shows with the circus. The animal hadn’t been violent before, and was aggressive because of joint pains, he said.
The bear, who goes by the name Yashka, was subdued after being stunned by electric prodders.
Seated in risers along the circumference of the round center stage, spectators in the audience — including parents and their small children — screamed as they scrambled for safety. Zero barriers stood between the stage and the audience.
One eyewitness told NBC News: “People started to jump up. A panic started. Everyone grabbed their kids and started running.”
The circus’ manager reportedly told Russian news outlets the outburst was caused by audience members neglecting to turn off their flashes when taking photographs. Representatives of the Anshlag traveling circus, which originates from Voronezh, also said both Solodyuk and the bear are fine, and that “the rest of our program does not pose any danger to spectators,” the Times reported.
In response to the dangerous scenario, Moscow officials have launched a criminal investigation on a charge of providing unsafe services, according to the Associated Press.
Bears in Russia, the Times pointed out, are still widely mistreated and exploited for entertainment purposes: “Captured bears, often tethered by chains, regularly appear on the streets of Russian cities as part of advertising campaigns or as gimmick attractions.”