How to tame a bear: One Russian family’s experience

Stepan lives in a country cottage near Moscow with his “parents.”

Stepan lives in a country cottage near Moscow with his “parents.”

In 1993, an ordinary Russian family adopted a three-month-old bear cub that was struggling to survive. How did they manage to turn this wild animal into a cute and cuddly pet?

No, it's not as if bears live in every Russian family as pets. But there is a family that keeps one.

The bear is named Stepan. He is 23 years old and has his own website. He stands at a height of 2.25 meters (about 7 feet 4 inches) and weighs 350 kilograms (about 772 pounds). Even as a senior citizen (in their natural habitat, bears live an average of 25 years), Stepan can dance a "Gypsy Girl" and waltz with his mistress.

How the bear became a member of the family

In 1993, Yury and Svetlana Panteleyenko got a call from friends, who asked them to take a bear home with them. A small St. Petersburg circus was no longer able to feed its animals and sought every opportunity to save those that could not be sheltered elsewhere.

When they arrived, they saw seven thin and sickly bear cubs that were not being fed properly.

“We decided to feed the animals with bread, but one cub was not even allowed to approach the crumbs – he was beaten and shoved by the other cubs,” Svetlana says. “So he sat in the corner, the skinniest and most downtrodden of them all.”

The cub had no fur. Its bones were visible beneath its discolored skin and sick and blackened teeth were protruding out of his mouth.

“The cub saw my husband and ran to him, stuck to his earlobe, and began to rub [himself] on him,” Svetlana says. “That's when we realized that we had to save the cub and took him with us. We do not know what happened to the other cubs. They say that they were placed in good homes.”

The bear was named Stepan and the first few years of life together were dedicated to nursing him back to health. He was fed every three hours – Svetlana and Yury gave him milk from a bottle, porridge and eggs. They regularly took him to a local veterinarian and over the years the “ugly duckling” has turned into a giant brown bear.

Video by The Quint / YouTube

How the bear lives today

At the age of five years, the bear began performing on tour and achieved considerable success in circus arenas. By this time, his new “parents” finished a circus course and obtained a certificate confirming their status as professional trainers, which gave them the right to keep the bear in their house.

The family traveled around the world. The Panteleyenko family toured throughout Latin America and visited Japan as part of a concert program. However, the bear was having a tough time with all those flights from one end of the planet to the other and eventually the family decided to abandon the circus life.

Today, Stepan works as an actor and model. He has starred in movies by such famous Russian directors as Pavel Lungin and Alexei Uchitel and regularly appears on TV and in commercials.

Video by artworksfilm / YouTube

However, Stepan played only evil characters until recently, chasing someone, tearing them apart or eating them alive. However, according to the Panteleyenko family, the “actor” has finally been able to put on a different hat and show the world who he really is – a kind and responsive circus bear. 

Video by Natali Tarakanova / YouTube

Video by Natali Tarakanova / YouTube

How to raise a bear

Stepan lives in a country cottage near Moscow with his “parents.” He has his own plot of land with a small den and a pool. However, he spends almost 24 hours a day around Svetlana and Yury  – walking, playing and communicating with them.

“We do not train him, but instead educate him on how to play,” says Svetlana. “For 23 years, we have not had a single case where he roared or rushed at us.”

Most of all, the bear loves to wrestle with Yury, sleep up to 12 hours at a time and eat. He consumes about 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of fruit and vegetables every day. He does not eat meat. 

Olga Barantseva/ Caters News

According to the Panteleyenko family, despite the fact that the bear weighs 350 kilograms, he can sit with them at the same table or lie on their leather sofa and watch TV.

“We have usual furniture in our house, nothing special," Yury says. “Stepan, of course, helps to take apart aging furniture and helps us keep up with the repairs of the house, but just in a support role. The clumsiness of bears is a stereotype. He would never destroy and tear apart things he loves.”

When the bear sees something interesting, he starts to repeat the behavior of people.

“Once, during the shooting [of a show], he saw how I put a pillow under my head and went to sleep,” Yury says. “Now Stepan sleeps with a pillow under his head, too.”

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