A Russian woman is proving that dogs aren’t man’s only best friend. She cares for a pet Asiatic black bear, walking him, dancing with him and taking him for drives.
Veronika Dichka posts videos on TikTok and Instagram, unconcerned about the possibility the wild animal, named “Toptyzhka,” could harm or kill her. Toptyzhka, Russian for “little cub,” is also the name of a 1964 animated film that remains popular in Russia.
The Asiatic black bear “has a reputation of being extremely aggressive towards humans.” according to the nonprofit Bear Conservation organization.
Dichka said friends who run a safari park gave her the bear, and she’s now its full-time caretaker.
“They brought him to me because they weren’t able to look after him and didn’t need him. So I became his guardian, and there are a few others who work with me who are professionals to make sure he’s properly cared for,” she said.
Dichka said she doesn’t spend all day making social media videos, but keeps Toptyzhka in touch with nature through walks and tree-climbing exercise. But she does shoot photos and videos of him dancing, fishing — from a boat — and even riding shotgun with her in the car.
She said she makes the videos so other people can share in the fun and see the human-animal bond in action.
“It’s important for people to realize that any animal is capable of friendship and trust with human beings,” she said. “Like this bear, if you take care of it and treat it properly and with respect.”
Asiatic black bears are protected under both international and national laws, “but often these laws are not enforced,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the species as vulnerable on its “red list.”
Though the bear dwarfs Dichka, she said she’s unafraid. “I feel safe because there is a connection between us,” she said. “He’s attached to me and that allows me to train him. I take care of him every day, including feeding, drinking, walking and even bathing him.”
She said it was a logical next step to introduce him to her other passions: fishing and ballroom dancing.
Several of her videos have drawn millions of viewers. One shows her shopping for sausages, which are delivered to the bear in a rucksack. (Toptyzhka bear disappears with the food.)
Asiatic black bears are found in the mountains and forests of southern Asia, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Burma. Adult males weigh from 220 to 400 pounds and are 4 feet to 6.25 feet tall.
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel
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