U.S. Government to Take Historic First Step to Protect Captive Bears

PETA Petition Nets USDA Promise to Address Bear Pits at Rundown Roadside Zoos Such as Three Bears General Store

For Immediate Release:
March 7, 2016

David Perle 202-483-7382


PETA has just received good news regarding its petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling on the agency to adopt species-specific regulations for bears under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA): The agency announced today that it will take steps to address the needs of bears confined to barren, decrepit concrete pits at tourist traps such as Three Bears General Store in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Cherokee Bear Zoo in Cherokee, North Carolina; and Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, Georgia. Although the USDA has not yet adopted bear-specific regulations, USDA Deputy Administrator of Animal Care Bernadette Juarez promised that it will issue new policy statements, factsheets, technical notes, and training sessions to ensure that bears are finally better protected under the AWA.

“The government’s response to PETA’s petition is a step in the right direction for all bears suffering in concrete pits,” says PETA Foundation Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “The next step should be requiring that bears be provided with large naturalistic enclosures with adequate enrichment, rather than barren prisons. In the last three years, PETA has managed to retire 40 bears to sanctuaries, but the federal government has the power to ensure that all the others who need to be rescued are helped—and it should.”

A 2015 PETA review of USDA-licensed bear exhibitors found that more than 1,000 bears are held in inadequate conditions in nearly 300 roadside zoos, bear pits, and other outfits across the country. While bears in the wild have home ranges of up to hundreds of miles, captive bears are routinely confined to cramped and barren concrete pits or dog kennel–sized cages, leading to psychological distress, arthritis, pressure sores, and other painful, debilitating conditions.

Since 2012, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—has rescued more than 40 bears from tiny cages and concrete pits. The group has repeatedly offered to help transfer the bears in the filthy enclosures at Three Bears General Store to a sanctuary where they’d have acres of lush terrain and be free from harassment by tourists. PETA has also repeatedly called on the USDA to address the bears’ conditions at Yellow River Game Ranch and Cherokee Bear Zoo.

The USDA delayed opening PETA’s 2012 petition for public comment for more than a year and sought such comment only after PETA filed a lawsuit over the agency’s delay. According to the USDA’s response, 99 percent of the 8,729 comments received in response to PETA’s petition were in favor of bear-specific standards.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

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