Moscow — Officials have opened a criminal investigation after a circus bear attacked and injured its trainer during a performance in northern Russia. Video of the Thursday attack in Olonets, a town 110 miles northeast of St. Petersburg, shows the bear pushing a wheelbarrow while walking on its hind legs, then attacking the trainer, biting him and forcing him to the floor. Another trainer hurries forward and kicks the bear repeatedly.
There were no barriers between the circus ring and the audience, and video of the incident shows people in the front rows of the crowd trying to move away with small children as the trainer is mauled just feet in front of them.
The online news site gazeta.ru cited a witness as saying the bear then ventured into the audience area before being subdued with an electric shocker.
The Interfax news agency said Russia's Investigative Committee had opened a criminal investigation on a charge of providing unsafe services.
According to the New York Times, Ruslan Solodyuk, the handler who was mauled by the bear told a Russian news website that the 16-year-old animal was on his last performance tour and was suffering joint pain at the time of the attack.
In spite of an increasing outcry from animal right activists, captive bears and other large mammals are often still used in circus acts and by street entertainers in the country.
Attacks are not entirely uncommon, either; last year a bear jumped off a skateboard and attacked it's handler during a circus in Russia's Volgograd region.