No More Bikes and Dancing for These Circus Bears

Moon bears in Vietnam head to animal sanctuary.

moon bear performs at a circus in Vietnam
A moon bear performs at a circus in Vietnam.

Animals Asia

Four circus bears have left their performing days behind them.

After being forced for several years to ride bikes, do handstands, and dance around wearing tutus, the Asiatic black bears are no longer part of a circus in Hanoi, Vietnam. Also known as moon bears, they were voluntarily surrendered to the wildlife aid group, Animals Asia.

Chili, Saffron, Tiêu (meaning "pepper" in Vietnamese), and Gừng ("ginger") were moved to the nearby Vietnam Bear Sanctuary run by the organization.

“For the first time in years these four beautiful bears will have access to wide, open spaces and feel lush, fresh grass beneath their paws.” Heidi Quine, bear and vet team director at the sanctuary, said in a statement.

“They will enjoy the freedom to decide what they do and when. They will be able to express natural behaviours like climbing, foraging for food, digging in the dirt and playing with their new friends. Never again will they be forced to wear a muzzle or perform tricks for entertainment.”

The four bears are now at the 27-acre sanctuary where they have a large outdoor space with pools, trees, hammocks, and lots of climbable furniture. They were immediately examined by vets and keepers and given access to a variety of fresh foods.

The rescuers say they've named the new residents after spices "in celebration of the rich and vibrant experiences that await them."

It will likely take some time before the emotional and physical effects of performing start to lessen and they begin to trust their handlers, the rescuers say.

DNA suggests moon bears are the oldest of all bear species. They are often "farmed" in tiny cages in captivity to collect bile, a substance taken from the liver and used in some forms of traditional medicine. The practice is illegal in Vietnam but there are still plenty of loopholes and lots of sun bears are used in roadside attractions and other entertainment venues.

Leaving the Circus

rescued bear reaches through a cage
Rescued bear reaches through its cage. Animals Asia

The four animals were the last remaining performing bears at the Hanoi Central Circus.

In 2019, Animals Asia campaigned for the release of two baby bears that had been captured illegally and then used in circus performances.

Now named Sugar and Spice, one had missing teeth and the other had a scar on her wrist, likely from when she was captured in the wild. Less than a year old when they were rescued, the female bears had been forced to ride motorbikes, walk on their hind legs, and carry buckets balanced on a pole held between their shoulders.

In 2017, the group published a report on the harmful physical and psychological effects experienced by performing animals. The Vietnam Ministry of Culture then issued a directive that all circuses phase out using wild animals in performances.

Since then, Animals Asia says 15 circuses have quit using wild animals completely and others are phasing out their use. Two places, however, still use bears.

“Attitudes in Vietnam are changing. Schools are starting to refuse to attend circuses that use wild animals and over 32,000 Vietnamese people have signed our petition to end the use of wild animals in entertainment,” Tuan Bendixsen, Animals Asia’s Vietnam director said in a statement.

“This is a direct result of our tenacious yet collaborative approach to working with authorities and communities. As we have seen time and time again, the only cure for so many of the things we want to change in the world, is kindness.”