Bear Dances With Kids in Zoo: Amusing Video or Captivity Cruelness Caught on Camera?

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Bear Dances With Kids in Zoo: Amusing Video or Captivity Cruelness Caught on Camera?
A bear dances for a group of school children at the Oji Zoo in Kobe, Japan. (Photo: YouTube)

A YouTube video posted on October 10 by user pandaspoon depicts (what looks like) a brown bear engaging a group of children in a friendly game of head bobbing.

Abnormal behaviour, such as pacing, swaying, rocking and even self-mutilation usually results from a restrictive and artificial environment.

The clip appears to be an innocent enough moment: there's certainly no doubt that the youngsters are having a grand time interacting with the furry beast.

But what of the bear? Does it look happy?

I’m no bear expert. I am not well-schooled in zookeeping. And for all I know, the veterinarians, handlers, and zoologists at the facility where this video was shot—Kobe, Japan’s Oji Zoo—treat their animals with the utmost love, care, and devotion.

But the clip is nevertheless a window into the life of a wild animal that eats, walks, sleeps, plays, paces, bathes—exists—behind bars in a cramped enclosure.

That’s not living. That’s solitary confinement.

Daniel Turner of Born Free, an animal rights organization that abides by the motto “Keep Wildlife in the Wild,” had this to say about the behavioral problems of bears in captivity:

Abnormal behaviour, such as pacing, swaying, rocking and even self-mutilation usually results from a restrictive and artificial environment that lacks opportunities to encourage natural behaviour and mental stimulation. Initial boredom within the captive environment—which usually lacks the complexity of the natural habitat of a species—often manifests itself into abnormal and usually repetitive behaviour with no obvious function as the animal seeks to cope with the situation. Reversal to a natural state is sometimes possible with the inclusion of apparatus, feeding devices and other forms of environmental enrichment, which in effect will ‘occupy’ the animal and encourage exercise and natural behaviours. However, should an animal be exposed to such depleted and restrictive living conditions for such a period of time that the abnormal behaviour becomes neurotic, reversal becomes less likely.  

What do you think?

Is the bear a rock star showing off for adoring fans, or is it the manic victim of a life in captivity imploring someone, anyone, to “Get me the hell out of here!”