From The National Humane Education Society (NHES), September 2010
It’s back to school time, but that doesn’t stop some families from planning their next road trip!
If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you know that signs for attractions like “Feed Live Bears Here” are more than tempting. Unfortunately, bears in these roadside exhibits are forced to live in small, barren pits with little to no shade. They cannot escape the tourists flashing their camera bulbs and paying money to throw apples at them. Day after day, they pace back and forth and adopt repetitive abnormal movements called sterotypies, which are brought on by lack of mental and physical stimulation.
These bear pit exhibits frequently fail to meet the minimum standards established by the federal Animal Welfare Act and often have been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for numerous violations, including failure to provide veterinary care; improper feeding and watering; and filthy, unsanitary conditions.
Owners of roadside bear pits do not have to be trained professionals. In many states, the only requirement necessary to exhibit exotic and wild animals is a permit. No education, no training, no special handling skills necessary.
Two states, North Carolina and Tennessee, advertise several roadside bear pits near the beautiful Smokey Mountains. Unfortunately, these pits are indeed legal. The law in Tennessee states, “It is unlawful for persons to possess bears unless they were in possession of the animal(s) prior to June 25, 1991”. The law in North Carolina states, “A county or city may by ordinance regulate, restrict, or prohibit the possession of dangerous animals.” The laws regarding ownership of exotic and wild animals vary from state to state; click here to see what the law is in your state!
So what can you do if you stumble across a captive bear attraction? First—don’t support it by paying to see the bears! Second—call the local animal control or police to find out if the attraction is legal. Third—encourage your friends and family not to support these attractions. If people ultimately stop visiting roadside tourist traps featuring animals, the exhibits will have to close their doors. When that day comes, we encourage the exotic animal owners to release their animals to reputable sanctuaries where they can live their lives as freely as possible.
So the next time you’re on a road trip, skip the bear exhibits and stop by a National or State park. Watching bears from afar (without touching or feeding them) is the best way to learn about these creatures, and it is also the best thing for them! Who knows, you may even see a very content bear in his natural habitat!