Thursday, January 31, 2013

Feds shut down Cherokee North Carolina bear park, from Public view

Feds shut down Cherokee bear park ( for public view and entertainment that is)
Jan 29, 2013   |  Written by John Boyle

Bob Barker and the Cherokee bears: Animal activist Bob Barker and PETA complain about treatment of bears in zoos on the Cherokee Indian reservation.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called zoos in Cherokee "bear prisons," in billboards for a time in the Asheville area. / Citizen-Times file photo

CHEROKEE — Federal regulators shut down a bear park and fined it $20,000 after it was cited for failing to provide adequate shelter, food and veterinary care for the animals.

The Chief Saunooke Bear Park generated multiple protests by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, including a visit by former game show host Bob Barker, a PETA activist. PETA has lobbied heavily for the closure of the park, which they say is long overdue because of the inhumane conditions the bears are kept in.

(Watch the video at the top of this story from PETA and Barker's visit in 2009.)

“We’re very pleased this step is being taken and they’re being held accountable for the long-standing abuse and neglect of bears,” said Delcianna Winders, foundation director of captive animal law enforcement at PETA. “Ultimately, the bears need to come out of those pits.”

The park previously was cited for failing to maintain adequate barriers between visitors and the bears. Last year, PETA posted billboards calling the bear zoos “prisons” and noted in news releases that in two cases visitors had been bitten, including a 9-year-old girl who was feeding a bear cub Lucky Charms cereal and cat food.

A phone call Tuesday afternoon to Chief Saunooke Bear Park went unanswered. The zoo’s owner, Kole Clapsaddle, could not be reached.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the fine and order suspending the park’s exhibitor license. The park had 11 bears in its latest inventory in the spring of 2012 — two Asiatic black bears, three grizzly bears and six North American black bears.

In a Jan. 15 order, the USDA stated that Clapsaddle agreed to the entry of the order and acknowledged the USDA’s jurisdiction over the matter. But he “neither admits nor denies the remaining allegations,” and “consents and agrees, for the purpose of settling this proceeding and for such purpose only, to the entry of this decision.”

The order calls for Clapsaddle, the park and its employees to “cease and desist from violating (the Animal Welfare Act)” and states the license is “suspended until (his) facility achieves full compliance.”

Of the $20,000 civil penalty, $5,000 is due immediately, and the remaining $15,000 will be held “in abeyance,” provided Clapsaddle does not “have any serious violations” of the Animal Welfare Act for two years.

USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said his department will not take custody of the bears. Clapsaddle will have an opportunity to come into full compliance with the regulations.

“He would still need to provide humane care and treatment for those bears,” Sacks said. “In order to get his license reinstated, he would have to prove that to the USDA. It’s not like we’re taking over the care of the bears. They are still his property, legally, so that’s still up to the individual to care for them.”

The USDA can confiscate animals if it can prove they are in “a state of unrelieved suffering,” Sacks said.

“That’s the only time we can take an animal, not because they’ve been written up for 20 different things or an animal advocacy group tells us to,” Sacks said.

The USDA will not conduct inspections on the park now that it is not licensed, but Sacks said “there are ways we would find out” if the bears are being mistreated, most likely through visitors, employees or the media.

The USDA previously found that the park’s operators failed to:

• Maintain a sufficient distance or barrier between animals and the viewing public to assure safety.

• Maintain dangerous animals such as bears under the direct control and supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced animal handler.

• Provide food for public feeding that was appropriate to the type of animal and its nutritional needs and diet.

• Maintain housing for animals that is structurally sound and in good repair to protect animals from injury and contain them securely.

• Keep food receptacles clean and sanitized.

• Provide adequate veterinary care.

PETA had lodged formal complaints with USDA and met with federal officials, as well as with members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The animal rights group also issued a 62-page report from bear experts who visited the bear park and noted many apparent violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Winders said PETA’s hope is that Chief Saunooke’s will never reopen and the bears will be relocated “to a reputable sanctuary where they’ll have the veterinary care, food and other essentials that they have been denied for years.”

PETA is “researching our options” on future action, Winders said.

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