Written by Alisa Mullins
Update: The Cherokee tribal council's meeting to discuss
the closure of the bear pits was postponed until Tuesday, March 19th at 5 p.m. because of bad
weather, so please keep letting the council know that public opinion is on the
side of the bears. To contact the council members, click on the "Take
Action Now" button below.
The following was originally posted on March 5, 2013:
After PETA publicized the findings of our investigation at Chief Saunooke Bear Park, several tribal elders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—which owns the land on which Chief Saunooke and other bear pits are located but does not run them—were horrified to learn of the conditions there.
Led by Peggy Hill, a group of elders has proposed a resolution to close all the bear exhibitors on tribal land permanently, and the tribal council is poised to vote on the resolution at its next council meeting this week. Hill told the Associated Press that "[m]ost Cherokee people had no idea what was taking place behind the bars of these roadside zoos" and that the elders are appalled "at the horrible treatment of these jailed bears."
Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with the plan. Chief Saunooke is currently closed, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended its license, but some in the community are pressuring the council to keep the other bear pits open. One of the facilities, Cherokee Bear Zoo, is also making a last-ditch bid for survival by claiming that it wants to remodel itself as a "sanctuary," although if this were its plan, there was nothing stopping it from doing so during all the years that it has been confining bears to barren concrete pits and racking up numerous violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The
bear exhibitors in Cherokee have proved time and again that they shouldn't have any contact with
You Can Help
Please contact the Cherokee tribal council and urge it to vote in favor of the resolution to close the bear pits permanently and send the bears to reputable sanctuaries.
Written by Michelle Kretzer
As President Barack Obama began a tour of the country
to talk about jobs and the economy, PETA met him in Asheville, North Carolina,
and presented him with a job description of our own:
While the president spoke to Asheville residents
about lowering the unemployment rate, PETA asked him to grant retirement to the
bears who are suffering in
another part of the state in squalid roadside bear pits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently suspended the operating
license of one of the pits, the Chief Saunooke Bear Park, after PETA filed multiple complaints about animal abuse there. The USDA cited
the bear pit for, among other abuse, denying the bears adequate food and
Obviously, the Secret
Service took stock of our bear and her message. Here's hoping the POTUS realizes
soon that these bears want to be unemployed,
Written by PETA
since a pig farmer told
our investigator, "Hurt 'em! There's nobody [who] works for
PETA out here," have we recorded so many dumb statements on camera.
told you how, following PETA's
investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Chief
Saunooke Bear Park and suspended its exhibitor license.
These are some of the conversations that helped land the bear abusers in hot
1. Bears Biting the Metal Bars
know the bears are miserable.
2. Hiding Things From the USDA
sure the USDA loved this.
3. Not Feeding the Bears
4. Eating the Bears
5. Discrimination Against Native Americans (Who Own the Park Land)
must have gone over well with the landlord.
6. Your Questionable Work Ethic
that don't go well together: impaired awareness and handling bears.
7. How to Treat a Lady
8. OK, so Now Pick
Your Jaw Up off the Floor
guys are so dumb that they could get their own reality show.
9. And Take Action for Bears!
bear pit has been indefinitely shut down, but we still need your voice to ensure that
the animals are safe for good. Sign the petition to request that the USDA immediately confiscate all the
the Chief Saunooke Bear Park and place them in a safe, reputable sanctuary.
After PETA filed multiple complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) at Chief Saunooke Bear Park, the bear pit must now surrender its exhibitor license. What's more, the license will remain suspended until the dismal facility is able to prove that it's compliant with AWA regulations—if it ever can.
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians joined PETA in meeting with the USDA to detail the problems at the Cherokee, North Carolina, roadside zoo. Following our complaints and meeting, the USDA charged the bear pit with more than a dozen violations. Now, the park has agreed to pay a fine and surrender its license in order to settle the case. It's probably a smart move, considering that in a 62-page report that PETA gave to the USDA, bear experts who visited the facility documented that, among other violations, the park was failing to maintain adequate barriers between bears and the public, leading to at least two attacks on visitors thus far. According to the experts, the park also failed to supply food for its public feedings that met the bears' nutritional needs and instead allowed visitors to feed them cat food and Lucky Charms cereal. Among many other abuses, the facility also failed to provide the bears with veterinary care and forced them to eat from filthy, unsanitary food containers.
Barely a month ago, a PETA investigation revealed that staff members were deliberately depriving bears of food and that the animals are so stressed from being constantly confined to small, concrete pits that they pace repeatedly and gnaw at the metal cage bars. Our investigation also uncovered drug use, racism, wage-law violations, and more.
Please ask the USDA to take the next step and
confiscate the abused bears.
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.
In yet another
important development in PETA's campaign to close down the shamefully dilapidated roadside zoos in Cherokee, North
Carolina, and elsewhere, which confine bears to desolate pits and concrete
pens, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just released a complaint detailing the charges that it has filed against Chief Saunooke Bear Park for more than a dozen violations of
the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). These charges come after PETA filed formal complaints with the agency and joined members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in
meeting with the USDA to discuss the problems at this facility.
In April 2010, PETA submitted a report—prepared by leading bear experts who had visited the Cherokee bear zoos—to the USDA, documenting
and detailing dozens of violations of the AWA at these wretched
The USDA charges include failure to provide food for public feeding that was appropriate to
the type of animal and his or her nutritional needs, repeated failure to
provide adequate veterinary care, housing animals in incompatible groups, and the
use of dirty, unsanitary food receptacles—all of which were issues raised in
PETA's expert report.
The agency also cited Chief Saunooke Bear Park (pit) for repeated failure to
maintain adequate barriers between animals and the public so as to ensure the
safety of both. This failure resulted in at least two attacks on visitors to
the park, as detailed in a complaint that PETA hand-delivered to the USDA
asking it to seek revocation of the zoo's license—and now it's finally doing
so, as well as pursuing civil penalties and a cease-and-desist order.
Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to close the pits now and retire the bears to an accredited sanctuary. And, of
course, never patronize facilities that keep captive wildlife in cruel
Thanks to the generosity of a kind PETA Vanguard Society member who was horrified after learning about the plight of bears at three miserable roadside zoos in Cherokee, North Carolina, PETA has been able to erect a billboard on busy Interstate 40 during the height of summer vacation season. The ad warns tourists that visiting Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park, or Santa's Land, which all confine bears to barren concrete pits and pens, is not only cruel but also dangerous.
Please let the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matthew Pegg know that Cherokee won’t be on your travel itinerary until the bears are retired to a sanctuary.
Written by Jennifer O'Connor
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports we obtained for the Chief Saunooke Bear Park make it clear that conditions for the bears there continue to deteriorate at this already wretched roadside zoo. Chief Saunooke is one of three displays in Cherokee on the Qualla Boundary area of Western North Carolina, where bears are held in barren pits and concrete pens.
After being cited for not having anyone available in February to allow an inspection, as required by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), federal inspectors returned in March and cited the zoo for having cages with rusty, sharp edges; large cracks and crumbling concrete; rotting wood frames; and a pen in which a bear was forced to live with stale, trampled-on bread on the ground next to a pile of feces.
Last year, PETA hand-delivered a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to revoke Chief Saunooke's exhibitor's license for endangering the public after a 9-year-old girl was bitten at the park. The USDA is currently investigating this incident.
Please add your voice in calling on federal officials and Cherokee leaders to put an end to the suffering for good.
This is pitiful: The USDA recently cited two bear exhibits (Cherokee, North Carolina's Chief Saunooke Bear Park and Cherokee Bear Zoo) for gross violations of the Animal Welfare Act—again.
According to newly released USDA inspection reports, Chief Saunooke Bear Park was cited for failing to provide veterinary care to bears suffering from diarrhea and for feeding bears moldy, wilted food. The Cherokee Bear Zoo was cited for failing to provide veterinary care to a grizzly bear whose hair had been falling out for weeks.
Both facilities were also cited for hazardous cage conditions, such as exposure to electrical outlets and sharp, protruding metal that could cause injury. Uh, yeah, and what about keeping miserable animals with sharp teeth in captivity and letting kids get close to them?! In July, a 9-year-old girl was bitten by a bear at Chief Saunooke Bear Park.
After the incident, PETA erected a billboard featuring a little girl with a bloody bandage around her hand and the words "Warning: Children Bitten at Bear Pits. Bear Prisons: Dangerous for Children."
We've long complained that these unaccredited zoos prisons are unsuitable because they deny bears proper exercise, social interaction, and the ability to hibernate. Please help us close Cherokee's cruel bear pits by sending a personalized message to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' tourism agency.
Written by Heather Moore
After learning that a 9-year-old girl was bitten by a bear at Chief Saunooke Bear Park (CSBP) in Cherokee, N.C., PETA hand-delivered a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking that the zoo's exhibitor's license be revoked immediately. According to a USDA inspection report, the girl was scratched and had tooth marks on her wrist bone after being allowed to get up close to the bear to feed the animal Lucky Charms and cat food. Let me get this straight: The bear's diet includes junk food and little girls. The incident was the second documented bite at CSPB in that week. Last December, a 75-year-old caretaker was attacked by a bear at this crummy roadside zoo.
PETA is working to close the filthy bear pits in Cherokee, N.C., and get the animals shipped to sanctuaries. The shoddy enclosures and the lax approach to human-animal interactions pose a threat to humans, and the bears live a miserable life that can't remotely be termed "humane." CSBP was recently cited for risking serious injury to animals by maintaining unsafe enclosures, feeding bears cat food and sugary cereal, reusing filthy food trays, and other violations.
Please ask the USDA to pull the plug on this dangerous and cruel operation.
Written by Jennifer O'Connor
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
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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.