Russian man mauled by circus bear 'was teaching himself' to train it

Russian circus worker mauled to death by a bear that scalped him when he entered its cage ‘was teaching himself to become a trainer’

  • Valentin Bulich, 28, was killed after locking himself inside a cage with the bear
  • His mother Elena said her son overestimated his skills after working with cubs
  • The Great Moscow State Circus said Bulich had ‘grossly violated’ safety rules
  • Russian animal rights groups are calling for circuses with animals to be banned 

A circus worker mauled to death by a performing bear was ‘trying to teach himself how to become a trainer’ when he was killed.

Valentin Bulich, 28, dreamed of being a tamer and had successfully worked with cubs before he was killed, said his mother Elena, 52.

Bulich secretly took the keys to a bear’s cage at a top Russian circus on a day off for performers. 

Valentin Bulich, 28, was a cage cleaner at the famous Great Moscow State Circus in Russia. He dreamed of becoming a trainer, his mother said, and after successfully working with cubs, he locked himself in a cage with a seven-year-old bear that then mauled him to death

Confident that he could ‘find a common language’ with the performing beast, he entered its cage and locked himself inside with the bear. 

But the giant seven year old tore off his scalp and clawed his body in an agonising attack.  

Now it has been revealed that the attacker was Yasha, a brown bear well-known for multiple stunts outside the circus where he was trusted to get up close to humans.

Yasha, seen above cuddling his trainer Oleg Alexandrov, has been named as the bear that killed Bulich. He will not be destroyed as a result of the attack, the circus has said

Yasha performs onstage with his trainer Alexandrov as part of a troupe of three bears that work with the Alexandrov family at the Great Moscow State Circus

In August, the beast gave a pre-match ‘pep talk’ to a football team in Moscow.

Two years ago Yasha pushed an injured circus gymnast in a wheelchair and licked his face after he was released from hospital.

Pictures show the killer bear with his tamer Oleg Alexandrov.

Fellow workers at the Great Moscow State Circus pulled the grievously wounded Bulich clear of Yasha’s cage – but he died from his wounds at the Vinogradov State Clinical Hospital soon afterwards.

Law enforcement said that Bulich had ‘no chance’ of surviving the brutal attack.

‘Valentin locked the cage from the inside.

‘He had no chance to survive – the bear removed his scalp.’

The enormous seven-year-old brown bear which killed Valentin Bulich is called Yasha. He has made a number of public appearances outside the circus where he performs. In August, the bear visited a Moscow football team to deliver a ‘pep talk’ to the players

Yasha the bear was a big success when she visited the players of a Moscow football team who felt safe enough to rub and tickle the tummy of the bear, who would go on to rip the scalp off of cage cleaner Valentin Bulich

Two years ago, Yasha the bear was filmed escorting an injured circus performer from hospital after his release. Following the bear’s later attack on Valentin Bulich, animal rights groups have called for a ban on circuses that feature performing animals

In these caring shots, Yasha the bear escorts an injured circus performer from hospital in the guise of a furry nurse. Just two years later Yasha would be the reason another circus worker landed in hospital and later died

The victim’s grief-stricken mother Elena, 52, said her son had ‘overestimated’ his skills in handling a bear in pursuit of his dream to graduate from being a cage cleaner to handling bears.

‘He apparently decided that since he could cope with cubs, he would find an approach to an adult bear,’ she told Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

‘He was very trusting, kind and naive.’

She said: ‘He wanted to try to find a common language with the big bear.

‘He told me he was already good at communicating with cubs.

‘I supported him, telling him ‘You will not be a cleaner all your life’.’

Bulich’s mother Elena, pictured above with her son, described him as ‘very trusting, kind and naive’. She said he was trying ‘to find a common language with the big bear’ when he locked himself inside its cage 

Following Bulich’s death, a neighbour described him as hardworking and dedicated to his job as an animal care worker.

‘We know him only from the positive side – he did not drink nor smoke, calm, he was a balanced, kind young man,’ said one neighbour. 

The circus said Bulich had committed a ‘gross violation of safety rules’ in entering the bear cage.

A source said: ‘The bear may attack simply from fright.

‘But it attacks sharply, quickly, without warning.

‘The reaction is lightning fast.

‘And death is terrible – the bear just tears apart [its victim].’

Yasha the bear, seen in the video above, will not be destroyed despite killing a human, the circus said.

The circus has a troupe of three Russian bears which perform with the Alexandrov family. 

Recently, animal rights campaigners in Russia have expressed concern over a series of incidents involving circus animals.

Irina Novozhilova, of animal rights group VITA, has called for circuses featuring animals to be banned, saying: ‘No circus conditions will be humane for one simple reason.

‘Training goes hand in hand with cruelty….

‘Circuses are always cruel beyond limits.

‘And circuses with animals should be banned. 

The cruel history of dancing and performing bears in Europe and Asia

In the Middle Ages, dancing or performing bears were a common form of entertainment in Europe and Asia.

They often featured in travelling circuses or individual performances, with the majority of trainers being Romany people from Eastern Europe.

Performing bears remained a common sight in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia well into the twentieth century, despite incremental efforts to introduce bans.

The bears were captured as cubs from the Himalayas, the Middle East and the jungles of the Indian sub-continent then trained to dance and perform tricks. 

Often the cub’s mother would be killed in the process of capturing the young bear. This practice continues in Siberia to this day. 

A bear entertains British soldiers in Southern Russia during the country’s 1917-1922 civil war

The process of preparing the bear for training often involved inflicting great pain on the animal through removing its teeth, cutting its claws and inserting a metal ring into its nose.

During training, a rope attached to the nose ring would be yanked painfully and sometimes sticks and whips were also used to coax the bear into performing.

To create the illusion of dancing, the trainer would play music while the bear stood on a hot metal platform lifting one paw after another to avoid being burned. Subsequently, whenever the bear heard the same music, it would begin to ‘dance’.

A number of organisations are working to have performances featuring bears banned and to place the animals in sanctuaries, however the practice continues in some countries and even once rescued, bears often suffer from mental and physical ailments that result in an early death. 

Sources:, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny – Witold Szablowski

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