An Italian circus is facing possible criminal charges for allegedly trying to deceive the audience with two chow chows painted to resemble pandas.
Police in the city of Brescia confiscated the white chow chows on Dec. 19 from the Orfei Circus and accused the staff of painting black patches on them in hopes the customers would believe the pups were actually pandas.
"Two white furred dog cubs, a male and a female of chow chow breed, were camouflaged as pandas and shown to the public, particularly children, to take photos demanding payment," Italy's state forestry police said, according to the International Business Times.
Wildlife activists of the Animal Protection Party who initially visited the circus to check for possible animal abuse discovered the pups.
"As soon as our volunteers got closer they realized the animals had nothing to do with the East Asian bears but were chow chow dogs painted as pandas," APP chairman Fabrizio Catell said, according to Elite Daily. "We believe it’s unacceptable to ridicule animals for entertainment and profit."
The circus owners now are facing charges of animal abuse and defrauding customers who paid to pose for pictures with the pretend pandas.
Skeptical customers were told the two dogs, a male and a female, were actually half-panda, half-dog hybrids, UPI.com reports.
The two dogs appeared to be in good health, but investigators said they both had very watery eyes, possibly from being exposed to constantly flashing cameras.
The owners may also be facing additional charges for falsifying the animal passports. The dogs, from Hungary, turned out to be six months younger than the documents claimed according to TheLocal.It.