Bear abandoned by mom as a cub now has hot modeling career

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If you thought Russia was a place where no one smiles and bears mingle among people, you’d only be half-correct.

Meet Stepan: a 750-pound bear that is taking the Eastern European fashion world by snow-storm.

The handsome brown bear was discovered as a cub abandoned by its mother, and taken-in by wife and husband Svetlana and Yuri Pantileenko. Now 28 years old, the apex predator has lived under the care of only humans since then, and has the docile demeanor to prove it, according to Moscow-based photographer Mila Zhdanova.

“People have some stereotyped ideas about Russia. They think we never smile and have bears walking the street,” Zhdanova, 40, told Media Drum. “We do have bears, but I want to show in my pictures that we do smile.”

woman lying with the bear in snowMediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

She added, “Shooting with Stepan is such a treat and I have to restrain my emotions.”

Zhdanova has released a series of images depicting the charming bear next to women in ornate costume, often traditional Russian garb, reminiscent of a fairy tale.

“Stepan is so friendly thanks to his trainers’ care and love,” said the photographer, whose work as attracted “models from Thailand, Australia, Germany, Britain, and Israel,” all hoping to work with Stepan.

Photographer, Mila Zhdanova, with Stepan the bear.Photographer Mila Zhdanova with Stepan.Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

“Some had heard of the modeling bear and had been dreaming of this for five years,” said Zhdanova. “The shoots are pure delight. There’s never any issues.”

“I’ve had more problems photographing kittens,” she joked.

Her latest series featuring Stepan was shot in the woods of Moscow over a period of several months as the wild animal can only be expected to “work” for an 90 minutes at a time. Any longer and they might risk agitating the bear.

But despite their innate ferocity, Zhdanova’s fanciful portfolio is indicative of Russian wildlife itself.

“I hope people see the beauty and strength in animals and nature through my photos,” she said.

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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Mediadrumimages / Mila Zhdanova

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