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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bear Mauls Boy to Death at Park

On sunny, springlike Sunday afternoon, Masha the brown bear seemed to be in a friendly mood. She licked the hands of people who brought food to her cage near Sokolniki Park in northeastern Moscow.

About an hour later, a boy's screams pierced the air. His legs had slipped through the metal bars on the roof of the cage, and the bear, now visibly agitated, mauled him mercilessly. Most of the flesh was ripped from his legs before rescuers could free him.

The boy, who police believe was homeless or a runaway, died early Monday in a city hospital. His name is unknown, and he is thought to have been 10 or 11.

"I have worked in the police for 20 years and have seen a lot, but still I can hardly find words to describe what I saw when we arrived at the scene," Lyudmila Kobzeva, the chief investigator of the Sokolniki police department, said Monday.

Unable to draw the bear away from the screaming boy, police used automatic rifles to bring her down. Afraid to aim for the head for fear of hitting the boy, officers needed 28 shots to kill the 3-year-old bear, Kobzeva said.

Police have accused the Central Station of Young Naturalists, the bear's keepers, of negligence, saying the animal's cage was inadequate. Employees of the station blame the child for teasing the bear and climbing onto its cage.

Experts from the Moscow Zoo say that the whole practice of keeping serious predators anywhere but in zoos is just calling for disaster.

The Young Naturalists Stations are a Soviet institution created in 1918 to provide education for children. There are almost 500 of them around the country, and many keep potentially dangerous animals.

When police arrived at the station at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Kobzeva said they saw a horrible scene. The boy was trapped atop the cage and the bear was trying to pull him down, tearing at his legs with its powerful claws and teeth.

Even after the bear was dead, rescuers had to be called in to break the bars and free the badly bleeding child, she said.

The boy remained conscious throughout the ordeal. He used the name Igor, and police and doctors are unsure if that was his name or if he was calling out for someone, Kobzeva said. The boy died in the hospital several hours later of injuries to his legs and chest and heavy loss of blood.

Employees of the station said the boy was part of a gang of youngsters who wandered onto its territory at the edge of Sokolniki Park.

"We saw a few kids earlier that day near the boiler building. We managed to scare them away though," said Yelena Glushanovskaya, 23, a station employee.

Shortly before the attack, Glushanovskaya said she took friends to see the bear, and the huge animal was happily licking food from people's hands.

About an hour later, she heard the screams. She and other staff members ran over to the cage and tried to distract the bear.

"We used a fire extinguisher and wooden bars, but she kept coming back to the boy," Glushanovskaya said.

Glushanovskaya said the bear should not be blamed. The boy had provoked her, she said, and the animal displayed a natural reaction.

Natalya Istratova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow Zoo, said the station was courting disaster by keeping the brown bear in such a cage. A proper cage should have double walls with a distance of at least a meter between them, she said.

"Where can a station like this get money to keep such a serious animal? We keep calling for legal prohibition of keeping dangerous animals outside of the zoo, but so far there have been no results," Istratova said.

Istratova also said that it was wrong to blame the animal for the accident.

Police said they are pursuing the negligence case. If convicted in court, the station management could face up to five years in prison.