WELLSVILLE — A week after only a couple PETA protesters gathered outside Baby Animal Days at the American West Heritage Center, the animal rights group showed their bite may be bigger than their bark. The organization Thursday asked the federal government to investigate a part of the hugely popular Wellsville event, claiming they have video footage showing inhumane treatment of bear cubs, part of the Yellowstone Bear World exhibit.
Debbie Metzler, Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, said PETA had sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging an investigation into the bear world display.
“PETA received evidence, presented to us from concerned citizens who visited the event, showing animals with thinning hair, which could indicate any number of concerns,” said Metzler. “The environment they were in was extremely loud and noisy. These are very stressful environments for cubs that should be sleeping in the comfort of their mother’s nurturing care, not being used as props for people to take photos of.”
Baby Animal Days is a yearly event, held at the American West Heritage Center during the first weeks of April. This year it attracted thousands of visitors each day. The Yellowstone Bear World exhibit was one of the most popular attractions at the event.
Sarah Gunnell, administrative assistant for the American West Heritage Center, said that the bears and cubs from Yellowstone Bear World (based in Rexburg, Idaho) are regulated by the USDA and that their license is current.
Metzler acknowledged that their letter was specifically about the bear exhibit and not the American West Heritage Center.
PETA’s complaint cited that the bear cubs were kept in a display enclosure that lacked a water bowl, any bedding, soft substrate, or any retreat from the crowds. One cub appeared to have thinning hair, a condition associated with a parasitic infestation or inadequate nutrition and exacerbated by stress.
“These conditions the cubs were in, where they are surrounded by loud for hours is really distressing, especially because they are so little and they need to be sleeping. That disturbance can impact them psychologically and physically. If the USDA does its job well, it will consider that to be a violation but we will what happens.”
PETA also alleges that when the cubs become too large to be handled, the facility ships them to other roadside zoos or exotic-animal wholesale dealers, and it sent some to the notorious “Joe Exotic” of Tiger King. In the last decade, it has similarly sent at least 65 cubs and 19 adult bears to Gregg Woody, an animal broker in Illinois known to send bears to slaughter.