Svetlana and Yuriy Panteleenko seem like a perfectly average family, but that’s until they introduce you to their 23-year-old adopted son, Stepan, a 300-lb brown bear. The unlikely family do almost everything together, right from playing in the backyard, to cuddling and watching TV on the sofa.
Stepan was just three months old when the Panteleenkos adopted him. He had been found by hunters after reportedly losing his mother and was in very bad shape. So they took him in and have been happily living together for the last 23 years. The couple say that because Stepan has been domesticated from a very young age, he has developed the gentlest temperament. He loves nothing more than hugging his parents every chance he gets and cuddling next to them on the sofa in the evening. “He absolutely loves people and is a really sociable bear – despite what people might think, he is not aggressive at all. We have never been bitten by Stepan,” Svetlana says.
Photo: Caters News
Frankly, the only thing Svetlana and Yuriy can complain about regarding Stepan is his big appetite. He goes through about 25 kg of fish a day, as well as lots of eggs and vegetables, but his favorite treat is a can of condensed milk. “It’s a wonder he doesn’t eat us out of house and home,” his adoptive mother jokingly says. Interestingly, Stepan has never been fed fresh meat, probably to avoid activating his predatory instincts.
Stepan the bear and his adoptive parents recently got their five minutes of fame after their story went viral online, after being picked up by popular English tabloids like The Daily Mail and The Mirror. As sensationalist news goes, it doesn’t get much better than a family living with a full-grown adopted bear, which is probably why they all forgot to mention one very important detail – that Svetlana and Yuriy Panteleenko are both animal trainers. I’d say that’s a pretty important part in such a story.
If you ask me, the Panteleenkos’ profession doesn’t make their relationship with Stepan any less impressive, it just shows that this sort of living arrangement is not for everyone. As animal trainers, they probably know exactly how to act around their adoptive son in every circumstance, and their expertise definitely played a big part in his growing up into a gentle giant.
Yuriy and Svetlana taught Stepan a number of tricks, and performed together at various events, usually in front of children. The “incredibly smart, kind and wonderful” bear was also the star of a number of photo shoots by Russian professional photographers. He can be seen posing next to complete strangers, cuddling with female models and even licking young children. All the models who worked with the bear testified to his unusually kind nature, some saying that he couldn’t stop liking them.
Photo: Olga Barantseva/VK.com
In fact, Stepan’s gentleness often gets in the way of his acting career. He was featured in several Russian films, including “The Edge” by Alexei Uchitel and “Tsar” by Pavel Lungin, but his adoptive parents complain that filmmakers are more interested in the bear’s “animal nature” that his playful and friendly attitude.
And in case you’re wondering about the methods employed by the animal trainers in Stepan’s training and domestication, Yuriy Panteleenko told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he has always relied on displays of affection and goodies, not violence when working with the bear, in order to create a harmonious atmosphere between them, and not make the animal feel like he was required to do certain things.
Photo: Olga Barantseva/VK.com
Panteleenko added that Stepan is one of the few animals he has ever worked with that is completely devoid of aggression. He always has a cheerful and playful disposition and has never once displayed the slightest sign of aggressive behavior, the trainer says.