Charm School

Slavery, Prison, Ecology

Bears are among the “charismatic megafauna” that people just like a lot, ranking high in anthropomorphic appeal along with baby seals, lions, wolves. That is why we try to keep them around and on spectacle- whether through worship, or bear-baiting spectacles, or zoos. At the beginning of the 20th century, “bear schools” in the Ariége Valley in the French Pyrenees taught these animals how to dance to the sound of tambourines. At the command “Dansez, mademoiselle!” (“Dance, miss!”), the bears showed their talents for a few coins. In a few places in the world, they still do.

But just as with humans, a bear’s brilliant school record can end in disaster. Katya the Bear, once used as a Russian mascot during the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980, has had to deal with disappointment and failure. After her big hit in the Games, Katya became the star of the Bolshoi circus in Leningrad, delighting the cheering crowds as she drove her motorcycle.  She starred in two films before her charismatic career went to pieces; in 2011, Katya, now aged 36, was found living in a cage in the back of a rusty car near St. Petersburg.

The terrible conditions she’s been exposed to since her downfall have resulted in a mental condition (Katya suffers from anxiety and hits the bars of her cage and jumps up and down) and petitions have been signed by people all over the world to try and set Katya free.


Blog post courtesy of Alba Diez de Ure