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Bob Barker, PETA call for release of Cherokee zoo animals

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  • Rob Schmidt
    http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090729/NEWS01/9072 90316 July 29, 2009 Bob Barker, PETA call for release of Cherokee zoo animals Dale
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 29, 2009
      http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090729/NEWS01/9072
      90316

      July 29, 2009

      Bob Barker, PETA call for release of Cherokee zoo animals

      Dale Neal

      Bob Barker and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals will take their
      campaign to free the bears in captivity to the nation's animal lovers,
      Barker said in a press conference today.

      "Things are going to change on the Cherokee Reservation, I promise," said
      Barker, the game-show host and animal advocate.

      Barker became involved at the request of the wife of Rep. Bill Young of
      Florida. The Youngs visited Cherokee last summer on a family vacation, and
      Beverly Young said she was outraged when she saw bears kept in concrete
      pits.

      "What they're doing is not bringing tourism here. It's turning our
      stomachs," Mrs. Young said at the press conference held today at the
      Renaissance Hotel in downtown Asheville.

      Barker got the audience he wanted in meeting with Principal Chief Mitchell
      Hicks and five members of the Tribal Council for the Eastern Band of
      Cherokee Indians on Tuesday.

      But he didn't get so much as a hint the tribe would do anything to try to
      change living conditions for bears in private zoos on the reservation.

      Barker called the conditions inhumane in a public meeting moderated by Hicks
      and attended by some business owners. Hicks called the actions by People for
      the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which arranged for the Barker visit,
      unacceptable.

      "In regard to your organization coming here, first of all without a business
      license, harassing the tourists here, harassing these businesses, it is
      going to stop," he said to PETA workers in a meeting.

      "I am going to ask this Tribal Council, if we have further complaints about
      PETA coming to the boundary and doing what you guys have been doing, I am
      going to ask that you guys be banned," Hicks said.

      Barker traveled to Cherokee after a Florida congressman, Rep. Bill Young,
      who also is a friend called him about the bear zoos.

      He told Hicks and some members of Tribal Council that the congressman's wife
      was appalled at the conditions after visiting the area.

      Barker contacted PETA about the bear pits and found the organization was
      already investigating.

      On Tuesday, he visited one zoo but wasn't allowed in the other two in
      Cherokee.

      He asked Hicks to turn the bears over to a sanctuary in California.

      "To think that with as advanced as our civilization is now that there is any
      place in the United States where bears are kept in pits is just almost
      unbelievable," Barker said in the meeting. "Just picture yourself, if your
      life, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, month after month, was in a pit."

      Zoo inspections

      The zoos on the reservation are inspected by the U.S. Department of
      Agriculture, which makes sure they comply with the federal Animal Welfare
      Act. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' wildlife office also inspects the
      zoos.

      The Animal Welfare Act requires standards including a safe, clean structure
      for caged animals, removal of animal waste and adequate food and water.
      Federal inspectors make unannounced visits once a year.

      Annette Tarnowski, the attorney general for the tribe, told Hicks and the
      Tribal Council that a federal inspector in May found no problems at the zoo
      at Santa's Land or the Cherokee Bear Zoo. The inspector noted three problems
      at the Chief Saunooke's Bear Park but has since said those have been
      corrected.

      Mixed feelings

      Visitors at the Cherokee Bear Zoo on Tuesday had mixed reactions about
      seeing the bears in concrete block pits. The zoo also has monkeys, two
      tigers, goats and a sloth.

      Teresa Milam, of southwest Virginia, said she was glad her two grandchildren
      got to see the bears up-close but would personally rather see the animals in
      a more natural state

      "They need more habitat," she said.

      Others didn't mind.

      Connie Mullins and Allen Warren, of east Tennessee, and their four children
      lined up to have a photo made with a baby bear. Mullins said her children
      enjoyed learning about the different kinds of animals

      "It is good for the kids," Mullins said. "And the bears are treated well."

      Debbie Leahy, director of PETA's Captive Animals Rescue and Enforcement
      section, told the tribe that federal laws don't go far enough in making sure
      animals are treated well.

      She said PETA would like the tribe to adopt North Carolina's law, which
      requires an acre of natural habitat for a captive bear. The animal rights
      group has received complaints about the Cherokee zoos, she said.

      "The fact that on one inspection these facilities complied with U.S.
      Department of Agriculture regulations is nothing to brag about," she said.
      "USDA has nothing specific in its regulations that deal with space
      requirements for bears, that deal with providing these animals with any kind
      of natural habitat or any kind of environment enrichment."

      Collette Coggins, who owns the Cherokee Bear Zoo with her husband, Barry,
      said the bears don't stay in the pits all day, every day. They are moved to
      other facilities and travel for educational events, she said.

      Some of the animals go to a zoo the business owns in Florida during the
      winter months.

      "We love our animals," she said. "They are like our pets."

      The 17-year-old business can't afford to buy more land for its animals,
      Coggins said.

      "When you pull up to a zoo and you go in and you pay your $3 or your $5 or
      your $10, or whatever it is, then you know what you are getting ready to get
      into," she said.

      At the meeting's end, Hicks thanked Barker and PETA for their comments. He
      did not say whether he would take any action.
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