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Captive Black Bears






We get the word "zoo" from the phrase "zoological collection." Animals have been kept in collections since 2500 B.C. in ancient Egypt. Wild animal expeditions were focused on collecting exotics for wealthy rulers.


By the fifth century B.C. zoos were in ancient Greece. One huge zoo there, in the third century B.C., contained thousands of exotic animals, including one very large white bear, which could only have been a polar bear. Hunters at that time were world travelers who stalked animals to capture them, not to kill them, because an exotic animal from a foreign land could bring a lot of money from a royal family. The ancient Greeks had an arena through which they paraded the animals on special occasions. Later, the Romans would copy the arena in Greece, and collect their own animals, but their uses would be very different.


By the first century B.C., some wealthy Romans had their own private zoos and animal preserves. These were the beginnings of people collecting animals, including dangerous carnivores, birds, reptiles, and fish, to have them for observation, and for meats. Later the Romans would use dangerous animals, including brown bears, that they had captured to be in the shows and blood sports of the Coliseum.


In the 1100's to 1300's exotic animal collections were kept at the Tower Of London by Kings. In 1251 a polar bear from Norway was contained there. During this time, animals were put on display in cages, and the public could pay to see them. The zoos in France in the 1700's were open to the public and to scientists, so that people could see these animals up close and study them. There began to be an effort to take better care of the animals. Not to do so could be costly, since the animals would die, or be sickly and unsuitable for viewing.


Today, modern zoos house collections of animals that we may never see in the wild. Some animals are close to extinction or threatened. There is now the need to try and give the animals a life close to what they would have in the wild, and so nowadays you will see larger enclosures and more natural habitats.


Some American Black Bears, brown bears, polar bears, and other kinds of bears are now kept in captivity. Bears are very difficult to keep in captivity. Bears are very large and powerful animals, and therefore dangerous to the people who care for them. Bears require very large territories that they can't experience in captivity. Bears are very smart, and so are easily bored and depressed without enough to stimulate them and keep them interested. Zoo owners who understand these things will either not have bears at all, or will try very hard to keep bears happy.


Many bears that live in zoos are there because they could not live in the wild for some reason, and would otherwise be killed. Sometimes, a zoo is a last chance for a bear, although the bear will not understand it. All he knows is that he needs a lot of room to live in; he needs to be able to forage for his food; he needs situations that will utilize his problem-solving skills; he needs toys and things to climb up on; he needs water to splash in; he needs a sheltered quiet place to go to away from people and weather; and he needs for his keepers to understand what he is all about. Before a zoo obtains a bear, it must make certain that the bear will be there for the right reason, and that the bear will have a good quality of life. A zoo's adoption of a bear is a serious and important decision. A zoo that is contemplating adopting a bear should take the time to have a clear understanding of what a bear needs for a good quality of life. The zoo should that the time to prepare the home for the bear, long before the bear arrives.


Here are some interesting websites that care for and about captive animals:


> www.bearkeepers.net

> www.detroitzoo.org

> www.bronxzoo.com

> www.knoxville-zoo.org

> www.sandiegozoo.org

> www.stlzoo.org

> www.zooatlanta.org

> www.auduboninstitute.org

> www.cincyzoo.org




By the first and second centuries A.D. the victorious Roman Empire had conquered both people and animals. The ancient Romans had an arena show called Circus Maximus, then later, the Coliseum, for cruel and savage games and blood sports. Animals, including lions, bears, leopards, tigers, and other exotic predators, were captured in foreign lands, and transported to Rome for these crowd-pleasing spectacles, in which the beasts eventually lost their lives. Half-starved carnivores were kept behind bars underground, until they were released into the arena above, to either be killed with knives and spears, or to be fed with prisoners and criminals and saved for another show. Some animals were pitted against each other for fun. Other exotic animals, such as elephants, were used in shows for comic relief, and some animals were trained to do tricks and dressed up in people clothes. The animal performers at Circus Maximus were, in essence, the first "circus performers."


There is no evidence that American Black Bears ever were in ancient Rome of course, but brown bears were captured in great numbers and used for entertainment.


American Black Bears were, however, extensively used in modern-day traveling circuses all over the world. Several kinds of bears used in circuses were muzzled, forced to walk upright for long periods of time, and trained to do tricks. They were frequently mistreated and not properly cared for.  Since the beginning of the twentieth century, people have protested the use of big cats, bears, and elephants, due to the cruel measures it took to make these types of animals learn tricks.


Citizens and government agencies have stepped up in recent years to legally take bears away from circuses. In 2001 the Detroit Zoo adopted a circus brown bear that had been with an east coast circus that kept her in a very small cage. She shares her new home with an American Black Bear, that was rescued in 1998. These rescues were a big deal: many accredited zoos will not take in an animal that has been abused and that has abnormal behavior problems.


In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated seven polar bears from the Suarez Circus in Puerto Rico when it was determined that they had been treated inhumanely. The bears had physical ailments that had been ignored, they had been beaten, and they were suffering from the tropical heat. One bear died in transport, but the other six made it to U.S. zoos to have better lives.


The last circus bear in Britain was rescued by the World Society for the Protection of Animals in December 2003 - it was a 12-year-old American Black Bear. Fred the Bear was flown free by British Airways to Canada, where he would live a better life at the Bear With Us sanctuary in Sprucedale, Ontario. There he had a pond, and logs, and tender loving care. He had spend his entire life in a tiny enclosure.


Another American Black Bear who has been rescued from a circus and brought to the Bear With Us sanctuary is Molly. Her circus name was Clyde. She was a dancing bear from Ireland. The way they taught her to dance was by putting her in a tight cage, forcing her to stand upright on hot steel plates while music was playing. After that, every time she heard the music, she associated it with burning her feet, so she hopped up and down. Molly was sold to a private menagerie and later rescued by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Animals. Visit the website at www.bearwithus.org to see photos of their rescued bears. We have not visited this facility, however, they appear to be legitimately caring, and we did not find any adverse press about them.


These photos portray bears being forced to do tricks that are unnatural behaviors for them. The 2006 Animal Olympics in China are offered to a paying audience of thrill-seekers. What they don't show is how the animals are chained to their props, and how they are treated as they are forced to learn how to perform these tricks. These bears are Asiatic Black Bears.







Many times people, for whatever reason, will want to keep an exotic animal as a pet. An exotic animal is an animal that would not normally be kept as a pet. It would ordinarily be classified as a wild animal, not a tame animal.


Bears have fascinated people for centuries. Today, after we have grown up with stuffed teddy bears, and watched cartoons such as Yogi Bear and Paddington Bear, we think we may want to own a bear in our home or yard. This is usually not allowed due to several reasons. First of all, even "tame" bears are very dangerous. Secondly, bears digestive systems are not like other animals or ours. If you have a baby bear and try to feed him cow milk in a bottle, he will become very sick. Thirdly, bears have needs that are hard to meet and bears become very large. Too often someone starts out with a cute baby bear and then after it starts to grow, its enclosure becomes too small for him. Sometimes people may put an bear into a cage outside of a store or gas station, as an attraction to draw people there to spend money. The confined bear is left there to be poked at, fed the wrong foods, suffer the elements with no shelter. This is no life for a bear.


Sometimes they are discovered, and then taken away by officials. Since they grew up with people, and probably have no claws, they cannot be put into the forest. They must be destroyed or given to a shelter for animals. There are few places that will take a bear, due to their size and their dangerous nature. Even a predator that has been raised from a baby can be treacherous and unpredictable, and can turn on people. It is always dangerous to be very close to a bear, even if he seems docile.


One place in California that has taken in rescued bears, and other animals that had been forced to perform,  is PAWS, Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary. At their website at www.pawsweb.org you can meet American Black Bears that they have rescued. There is Arthur, a 3-legged black bear, that was found living in a culvert near a golf course; Boo Boo, a privately owned black bear that suffered with a chain that had stayed on him so long that it had grown into his neck; Cinnamon, Sampson, Oma, and Scarface, all black bears who were all confiscated from a squalid roadside menagerie; Cindy, a black bear who was orphaned in the wild in California and rescued by DNR; and Sasha, a black bear who lived in a cage at a gas station all her life - when she arrived at PAWS she was even afraid of grass. We have not visited and therefore cannot officially endorse this facility but from what we have heard, they seem to be in it for all the right reasons. We have not seen evidence to the contrary.


If you go on the internet you will probably find other non-profit organizations who rescue bears. Beware of roadside menageries and privately-owned small zoos that are in business really only because someone wanted to legally be able to own bears and other types of animals that should be in the wild. Some of these places are not in it for rescue, and will go out and purchase captive-bred animals to show or exhibit in cages or small enclosures. You will find photos of the owners with their "pets." These places are not "sanctuaries," they are menageries or zoos. Always carefully investigate any animal facility that asks for donations before you give. If you feel that an animal facility is abusing their animals, always report them to the agency that oversees them. Not all "animal sanctuaries" are good for the animals, but some are. Some are doing some very good work.


We have gone on the internet and within two minutes have found baby black bears for sale as pets for $600 apiece. The animal business is out there, but we must all decide if a baby black bear should be a pet or not. They are cute when they are babies, but they grow very fast, eat lots of food, require lots of attention, and need lots of room. Your purchase of a baby black bear will keep that business going.




Show-biz bears are usually very well taken care of at their homes. They make lots of money for their owners. There is a wonderful movie about the bear that inspired A.A. Milne's Winnie The Pooh. It is entitled, "A Bear Called Winnie." This was a movie about a real American Black Bear, and it could have been a cartoon, or it could have used a real bear to tell the story. It used a real bear. The company that owns and trains show-biz bears is called "Bear With Us." Their black bear, Bonkers, has appeared in "A Bear Called Winnie," "Brokeback Mountain," "The Sopranos," and has been put into programs produced by Canadian Geographic and BBC. Chester and Charlie, their two black bear cubs, were used in "A Bear Called Winnie" as well. You can see these bears at www.bearwithme.org. This company seems to really care for their animals.


However, there are many people that say that animal actors are, in fact, abused and should not be used for our entertainment. The business of trained animals used in movies and, surprisingly, in documentary programming, is lucrative. If you go on the internet and search for "animal actors" you will see a large number of these businesses. And, for every one caring trainer, you will find ten who were not so caring. Another search on the internet will bring you to articles about some of those who, in fact, used punishment rather than rewards to make their animals do tricks.


Everyone will form his own opinion after researching both sides of this animals-for-entertainment controversy.




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