Last Call (At Last) for Ukraine's Vodka-Drinking Bears

brown bear water stick photo

Bears belong outside. Photo: Peter Mulligan / Creative Commons.

Some bars have a pool table or a dart board to entertain customers. Others might have a bunch of flat-screen TVs, or even a mechanical bull. In Ukraine, dozens of drinking establishments have a bear. A real, live bear. That gets forced to drink vodka for patrons' amusement. It's a cruel practice that the country's environment minister has vowed to bring to an end.The Ukrainian government has identified around 80 bears being kept for entertainment in restaurants, motels, and private zoos, mostly in poor conditions, the BBC reported this week. "How long can we tolerate animal torture in restaurants where drunken guests make bears drink vodka for laughs?" Environment Minister Mykola Zlochevsky was quoted as saying as he vowed that the bears would be taken from their owners and released into a wildlife sanctuary.

Dancing Bears In Istanbul
Similar measures previously brought an end to the practice of using bears for entertainment in Turkey, where dancing bears were a common -- if technically illegal -- sight well in the 1980s, if not later. By 1998, however, the BBC reported, the country's former ursine performers had been safely moved to a wildlife rescue center in the western city of Bursa.

Bulgaria likewise bought up and "retired" its dancing bears to a mountain reserve in preparation for its joining the European Union in 2007, according to the music and culture blog Dumneazu, which includes a number of archival photos. While taking care to point out how cruel the practice was, the blogger also imparts some fascinating details about the historical roots of leading dancing bears in Balkan culture, all the way back to Byzantine times in what was then Constantinople.

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