This is the moment two bear cubs take their first steps on grass after being rescued from a life of cruelty in the circus.
The endangered moon bears were poached from the wild and forced to ride motorbikes on stage in Vietnam.
Horrifying footage from inside the circus shows one of the muzzled cubs falling off a bike before being picked up by the scruff of its neck. The cubs are sisters and have been named Sugar and Spice.
They were rescued following an investigation by Animals Asia. The charity says circus bears can spend their entire lives in tiny cages or concrete cells, without ever seeing trees and grass.
Sarah van Herpt, who is caring for the cubs, said the moment they stepped out on the grass for the first time was ‘magical’. She said: ‘They were curious and enchanted by the outside world, but frightened too. Without their mother to protect them they are vulnerable and know how awful exploitation can be, but in time they will realise they are safe in our sanctuary. No one can hurt them anymore.’
Moon bears are supposed to be protected from poachers under Vietnamese law, but the little cubs were found openly performing on stage at the Central Circus in Hanoi.
As they never learned essential survival skills from their mother, the cubs will have to grow up at Animals Asia’s bear sanctuary. They will eventually be integrated with an existing community of nearly 200 rescued bears.
Animals Asia is petitioning the Vietnamese government to ban the circus performances and send the animals to rescue centres and sanctuaries. Animals Asia CEO Jill Robinson added: ‘It is unthinkable that confused and frightened young bears are being exploited and forced to perform on stage in Vietnam. These animals are endangered, protected by national laws and deeply traumatised by what is being done to them. The conditions they are held in are horrific and there is no regard for their welfare while on stage. Thankfully, the cruelty is over for Sugar and Spice, but we won’t give up on other animals suffering the same awful fate.’