PARIS (AP) — French authorities have banned the owners of a sick bear from displaying the animal in public shows after an inspection found that it suffered from severe health problems and was being held under poor conditions.
Friday’s rare move by the Environment Ministry followed complaints by animal rights groups over the treatment of Mischa, an adult male bear displayed in medieval fairs and private shows across France.
A ministry statement said vets have treated Mischa after performing health checks on him earlier this week. His owners, a couple of bear-baiters in central France, were ordered to ensure that he enjoys proper veterinary care.
Another inspection will take place within five days to ensure the order is respected. If not, the bear could be seized, the ministry said.
A video from the Aves France association showed Mischa at a show Sunday in northern France appearing physically weak and having difficulty walking.
Arnauld Lhomme, in charge of investigations at the 30 Million Friends foundation, told The Associated Press that French animal protection groups have known about Mischa for years.
The bear baiters have authorization to buy and own bears in France but their company filed for bankruptcy last year, he said. The trainers own three brown bears but only one, Mischa, is docile enough for shows.
An online petition launched by One Voice, an animal rights group, has urged that all three bears be freed from cages. It was signed by 36,000 people.
Lhomme said he is very skeptical about the determination of French authorities to actually protect Mischa, criticizing the five-day delay they granted his owners.
The ministry’s statement is “strong” yet “I think unfortunately it’s useless,” he said. “So far the decision does not go in the direction of what we have requested for years: a ban on itinerant animal shows.”
Lhomme says a judicial investigation is ongoing on the case.
The French government says it will soon present an “action plan” to improve conditions for wild animals in captivity. Measures will focus on fur mink farms, zoos, dolphinariums and animals in circus and shows.