By Samantha Grillo @_samanthagrillo

Johnny Welde only needs the bare necessities in life - the 13 bears that live in his backyard

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Videographer / Director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Samantha Grillo, Chloe Browne
Editor: Ian Phillips, Kyle Waters

Bear swim: Johnny Welde III swims with 900lb bear, Bruno

Johnny and his family have been training and housing grizzly and brown bears for the past 89 years in Florida, USA.

And the fearless 58-year-old wrestles and even swims with the massive animals - some as tall as eight feet and weighing 900lbs.

Johnny and wife, Monica, 54, hope to see the tradition continue with their son, Johnny IV, who has been working with the animals since he was 3-years-old.

Johnny feeds Bruno, who stands over eight feet tall
Johnny feeds Bruno, who stands over eight feet tall

Monica, said: "We know what these animals are capable of and we could read them - we would never put our children in danger.

“In the wild, bears can be dangerous animals - but the relationship we have with them is built up over years of living with them, 365 days a year.

“We live and breathe these animals, we love them and they are a part of us.”

Family portrait: Johnny IV, Monica, and Johnny III pose with one of their bears on the ranch

Johnny’s grandfather, Johnny Welde Jr., started the family business in 1926.

Johnny said: “He came to the United States in the 40s and did a lot of different venues over here and then in the late 50s and 60s he did a lot of TV shows and movies.

"My grandfather was performing somewhere and a talent scout saw me leading a bear around at 3-years-old and he said, ‘well if that bear can work with a little boy, then he can work in Hollywood.

Johnny III with Bruno bear on a commercial shoot in 1994

“The Welde bears have been in the Beverly Hillbillies show, The Lucy Show, Petticoat Junction and Two Little Bears with Eddie Albert and various Disney movies.”

The family train the bears to do different behaviours and tricks based on their personalities and the movements they like to do.

Monica said: “We build a relationship with our bears based on mutual love and respect.

Johnny III posing with his bear Caroll in 1997
Johnny III at three-years-old with Caroll the bear in 1959

“We like to develop their personalities and bring them out when we train them - all the bears are different.

“Some do funny behaviours, natural behaviours, and we like to demonstrate all of those abilities.”

All 13 bears travel with the family to state and county fairs across the United States during the summer season.

Baby bears: The Weldes help care for the baby bears by hand feeding them

Monica said: “We try to teach people about these animals by putting on a show and an educational and informative presentation.

“These animals are being poached and it’s important they learn about it - awareness is education.

“The money we make from every job we do with them goes to making their habitats bigger and better for them.

Beary special presentation: The Weldes train the bears to perform and show off their natural talents

“There’s probably 2 per cent of the population that believes these animals should not be kept in captivity, and I ask them what they do for bears.

“If you take these animals away from people who take care of them and teach people about them, they will disappear it’s a fact.”

Like family: The Weldes consider their bears part of their family and tend to them all year round

Johnny and Monica’s son plans to take over the family business and continue the bear handling tradition.

Johnny IV said: “I’ve pretty much known my whole life that I wanted to take over.

“These guys are my family and I don’t want to part with that.”