If you were outraged by the killing of this three-legged bear or disgusted to learn that these sloth bears were literally dying to entertain people, then avert your eyes from this harrowing tale out of Cherokee, North Carolina.
The Chief Saunooke Bear Park was recently shut down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) after animal rights activists accused it of abusing bears and violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The facilities owners were slapped with a $20,000 fine.
A 62-page report from PETA and ursine experts who visited the park documented numerous incidents of inhumane treatment to the 11 bears that called the park home—including supervisors who were caught boasting of depriving them of food.
“In the past few years, PETA has filed a number of very specific complaints about very apparent violations of the AWA at bear facilities including Chief Saunooke,” said PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, Delcianna Winders, to TakePart.
Currently, the bears remain the property of the park's owner, though PETA has petitioned the USDA to find the bears a new, safe home in a proper sanctuary.
To produce the report, Winders explained that, “We gathered a number of bear experts who went out to observe the conditions and the report identified numerous violations of the AWA. We then met with and presented that report to the USDA. Following that the charges were filed and all of those charges are issues that were identified in the expert report and discussed when we met with the USDA.”
As with any government agency, things can sometimes move slowly which is particularly concerning when you have animals who are suffering. But Winders noted that although, “The charges that resulted in the settlement were already pending when the investigation was released, I think it put additional pressure on the owners of the facility to enter the settlement agreement that they did with the USDA.”
“There were numerous bears who were so stressed from their confinement they would turn in tight circles repetitively or pace and weave which are all recognized signs of poor welfare. There were also bears who would bite the pit's metal bars and break their teeth and then there were not given any veterinary care for the broken teeth. Often, numerous bears suffered from diarrhea yet they didn’t get treatment and their diet wasn’t changed to address that.”
Winders added that aside from being incredibly cruel, bear parks like Chief Saunooke are just very antiquated. "Bears used to be kept this way decades ago, but we learned more about what bears needed and all the reputable facilities changed and switched to a natural habitat type enclosure."
“We did another bear rescue from North Carolina recently,” said Winders. “It was a bear who had been kept in essentially a tiny dog run that was a chain-link and concrete enclosure. He’s now at a sanctuary, and his situation is pretty typical of what you’d see at a sanctuary.”
“He has a multi-acre habitat and his own pond. Previously he’d been forced to drink and bath from the same small trough of water. It’s forested so he can explore with his nose to the ground. What they need is pretty basic—space, an opportunity to hibernate, and a substrate that’s appropriate for their feet. If you keep them on concrete they’re going to end up with foot problems. They also like to nest so they need materials to nest with. It’s really nothing that fancy.”
Not too fancy—unless you compare it to a concrete pit.
Do you think more needs to be done to identify and shut down bear parks that don’t provide natural habitats for their animals? Tell us in the COMMENTS below.
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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com