The national animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is turning up the heat on a small privately-owned roadside zoo in Cherokee, North Carolina, where, PETA officials say, the bears are forced to live in stark, concrete pits with little or no natural stimulation. PETA says it will focus more of its attention on the Cherokee Bear Zoo now that a similar attraction in Cherokee has been shut down.
PETA General Counsel Jeff Kerr tells WUOT News his organization has been targeting the bear pits at the Cherokee Bear Zoo and the Chief Saunooke Bear Park for years.
This summer, the Chief Saunooke Bear Park was shut down by federal regulators and the bears were sold to the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas.
"(The bear pits) are large holes in the ground lined with concrete that completely deprive (the bears) of all sensory stimuli and deny them everything natural to them," Kerr says. "They are devoid of environmental enrichment of any kind, like climbing structures, foraging opportunities, barriers for privacy and substrate for digging, resting and nest-building."
In March, the Smoky Mountain News reported Cherokee Bear Zoo owners Barry and Collette Coggins admitted their facility was in need of upgrades and they were considering building a multi-million dollar bear sanctuary of their own.
The Coggins' did not respond to WUOT's phone calls on Thursday.
The Cherokee Bear Zoo has several bears on site, four of which are grizzlies. According to its web site, the facility also houses lemurs, raccoons and a young tiger.