Written by Jeff Mackey
PETA has submitted a 64-page petition, which includes case
studies, photographs, and expert statements, to the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) asking the agency to create and apply specific regulations for bears held captive in appalling conditions
by exhibitors, dealers, and research facilities. By allowing bears to be kept
in squalid cages and concrete pits and denied everything that is natural and
important to them, the USDA is clearly failing to ensure anything close to
humane treatment of captive bears, in violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
Last month, PETA successfully used legal action to rescue a bear named Ben, who was kept for six long years at Jambbas Ranch in a cramped cage with a concrete floor. Ben was fed dry dog food once a day
and spent most of his waking hours pacing the few square feet allotted to him. Despite
Ben's obvious suffering and multiple complaints from PETA and others, USDA
inspectors failed to cite Jambbas for violations related to Ben. In state court,
however, a judge ruled that the conditions in which he was being kept
constituted cruelty to animals, proving that the federal AWA isn't preventing
cruelty to captive bears.
While Ben's story has a happy ending, hundreds of other
bears will continue to languish in squalid conditions unless the USDA takes action.
Roadside zoos like Jambbas and the Cherokee Bear Zoo account for
the majority of USDA licensees with captive bears. These shabby facilities keep
bears in tiny barren cages or concrete pits with woefully inadequate space,
lack of physical or mental stimulation, and inappropriate diets and in
conditions that deny the bears any opportunity to engage in natural behavior,
such as hibernating and foraging. Because their needs aren't being met, many
bears in roadside zoos spend most of their time pacing, cage-biting, and
head-butting, which experts agree are signs of distress.
Bears have a natural life span of up to three decades, and
some species can have a home range of thousands of miles. According to the International Zoo Yearbook, "[I]t is recognized
that bears are extremely difficult and challenging creatures to manage in the
captive environment"—just as challenging, according to studies, as
primates. For example, in a study of 33 carnivorous species, bears showed the
most evidence of stress and psychological dysfunction in captivity. An Oxford University study ultimately concluded that "the
keeping of naturally wide-ranging carnivores should be either fundamentally
improved or phased out." But the requirements for bears' care currently
fall under the AWA's minimum regulations for a wide variety of unspecified
species, and the USDA is failing to use these generic regulations to protect
In addition to a specific prohibition on keeping bears in
abysmal concrete pit–style enclosures, PETA has proposed regulations that would
require that bears be furnished with naturalistic habitats, dens for nesting
and hibernation, pools for bathing, enough room to forage and explore,
enrichment, and other elements that would improve bears' mental and physical
Speak up for bears in captivity! Please join PETA in urging the
USDA to formulate bear-specific standards to be added to the AWA.
you have a general question for PETA and would like a response, please e-mail Info@peta.org. If you need to report cruelty to
an animal, please click
here. If you are reporting an animal in imminent danger and know where to find the
animal and if the abuse is taking place right now, please call your local
police department. If the police are unresponsive, please call PETA
immediately at 757-622-7382 and press 2.
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Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.