Four Old Bears Take Their First Steps Outside After 20 Years in a Cage

After spending their lives at a roadside attraction, the animals have been released into a wildlife sanctuary where they can feel grass, swim, and hibernate.
Aug 24, 2015·
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

This isn’t the story of Goldilocks’ three bears—one wee, one medium, and one huge—this is the story of four bears, all old, who after two decades finally have room to roam.

And that seems just right.

In a video from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the bears—named Fifi, Bruno, Pocahontas, and Marsha—are shown taking their first steps toward freedom in a Colorado wildlife sanctuary after being rescued from the rusty cages where they had spent most of their lives.

For the past 20 years, PETA says, the four bears, ranging in age from 22 to 32, were isolated in small cages at a now-defunct roadside attraction in Pennsylvania with no shade, no water to cool themselves in, and no opportunity to hibernate. All they had was oversize wooden doghouses for protection from the elements.

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According to PETA, the bears showed signs of “physical and mental deprivation,” constantly swaying and pacing at the time of their discovery.

Pat Craig, executive director of the Colorado-based Wild Animal Sanctuary, said the owners of the shut-down zoo, a 70-year-old man and his wife, continued to care for the bears over the past 20 years but advertised to sell the bear cages earlier this year.

“The old man had placed an ad for the steel cages—not the bears,” Craig said in an email. “He thought someone would buy the cages rather than the bears. His gimmick was he was advertising the cages for sale and was going to ‘throw in’ the bears if someone bought the steel.”

In July, PETA and Wild Animal Sanctuary teamed up to get the bears a better life. After a 24-hour relocation process, all four are familiarizing themselves with the grass, natural terrain, underground den, and small pool at their new 15-acre enclosure on grasslands northeast of Denver.

“After more than 20 years in a cage, these bears are finally free to roam, forage, climb, den, and bathe,” Brittany Peet, PETA deputy director of captive animal law enforcement, said in a statement.

The bears are the latest additions to the 720-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary, which houses more than 100 bears, along with wolves, tigers, and African lions. Because the bears have been in captivity for most of their lives, they can’t be released back into the wild.

Craig said the animals will now be able to naturally hibernate—something they couldn’t do before.

“The facility they lived in was a tight concrete-and-steel cage that provided no natural amenities whatsoever, as compared to the grass, dirt, ponds, and other natural amenities they have now,” he said.

Now, Craig added, “they receive the best diets possible and have special underground dens that allow them to hibernate as nature intended.”

As states tighten regulations on exotic animal owners, Craig said more facilities like Wild Animal Sanctuary are needed.

“Breeders and people trying to make money off of the animals are being shut down by regulations or run out of business by public pressure,” Craig said. “So when they do, there are larger groups of animals needing help all at once—rather than one or two at a time.”