Warning: This story contains graphic details some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
Footage posted on Russian social media shows the moment when the circus performance goes awry.
In the video, the bear can be seen pushing a wheelbarrow up to its trainer at the edge of the ring. The trainer holds up his hands, causing the bear to stop. He walks past the bear and leads it back in the other direction, then crosses in front of it.
That’s when the bear grabs him from the side and tackles him to the ground, eliciting a chorus of screams from the audience. An attendant immediately comes to the trainer’s rescue, kicking the bear in the haunches and the shoulder to drive it back.
The video shows there were no barriers or fencing between the audience and the performance.
“People started to jump up,” witness Galina Guryeva said, according to a video translation by NBC News. “A panic started. Everyone grabbed their kids and started running.”
Staff eventually used a stun gun to subdue the bear, which was then muzzled.
Despite the ferocity on display in the video, the bear’s trainer, Ruslan Solodyuk, was not seriously injured.
Authorities have opened a criminal investigation on charges of providing unsafe services, the Associated Press reports.
The bear’s performance has been removed from the circus schedule as accusations fly over who is to blame for the attack.
Lyudmila Misnik, manager of the Anshlag travelling circus, blamed members of the audience for the incident. She told the Gazeta publication that flash photography is prohibited at the circus, but “people stubbornly ignore it.”
Misnik added that the bear belongs to Solodyuk, not her circus, which simply owns the tent.
Trainer Solodyuk said the bear, named Yashka, was not provoked by the audience. He told REN TV that the bear is 16 years old, and it was likely suffering from joint pain due to the autumn weather. He said the 660-pound animal was on a break from its joint pain medication when the incident occurred.
“He is already old,” Solodyuk said. “He has problems with the joints.”
Solodyuk said the bear was supposed to perform a somersault for a trick called the “clubfoot and Garden Wheelbarrow.” However, it turned on him rather than executing the trick.
“We took him away and reassured him,” Solodyuk said. “He himself was scared.”