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Eastern Band dismisses bear treatment protests from Barker, PETA

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  • Rob Schmidt
    http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090730/NEWS01/9073 00315 July 30, 2009 Eastern Band dismisses bear treatment protests from Barker,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2010
      http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090730/NEWS01/9073
      00315

      July 30, 2009

      Eastern Band dismisses bear treatment protests from Barker, PETA

      By Dale Neal

      On a second day of exchanges over zoo bears, Chief Michell Hicks of the
      Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians brushed off complaints by Bob Barker as the
      former game show host vowed to keep pressing for change.

      Barker called for a tourism boycott of the Eastern Band and said Western
      North Carolina would feel economic repercussions if the treatment of bears
      doesn't improve.

      Hicks on Wednesday called Barker's comments in a meeting a day earlier
      insulting.

      "I'm appalled by his behavior and him accusing the Cherokee of being
      barbaric," Hicks said.

      Barker and organizers with the group People for the Ethical Treatment of
      Animals followed the Tuesday meeting on the reservation with a Wednesday
      news conference in Asheville.

      Both promised to continue their fight to free bears in Cherokee's three
      roadside zoos, all privately owned.

      Hicks said the businesses have complied with tribal law and federal
      standards for zoo living conditions.

      Barker and the animal rights group called for a boycott by tourists.

      "Things are going to change on the Cherokee Reservation, I promise," Barker,
      a longtime animal rights advocate, said at the conference. "This is going to
      be a blight on tourism. Americans love animals, and all they have to know is
      that animals are being abused."

      Hicks on Tuesday moderated a meeting during which Barker addressed a crowd
      that included five Tribal Council members and businesspeople.

      Barker at his news conference said the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce
      would be hearing from animal lovers from across the nation about the
      treatment of bears on the reservation, about 50 miles away. "We feel it's a
      problem for the city of Asheville having this Third World spectacle
      happening right at its doorstep."

      "We're disappointed that tribal officials didn't take immediate action to
      help these bears," said Debbie Leahy, director of PETA's Captive Animals
      Rescue and Enforcement Section. "This campaign is still in its early stages,
      and PETA, of course, will not stop until the bear pits are closed."

      Barker became personally involved at the request of the wife of U.S. 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 how bears
      were treated in private zoos.

      "What they're doing is not bringing tourism. It's turning our stomachs,"
      Beverly Young said at the news conference.

      Young said she saw six or seven bears confined to concrete cubicles.

      "Fur was literally hanging off of them," she said. "We treat terrorists in
      Guantanamo better than these bears are treated, and these bears didn't do
      anything to us. We invaded their land."

      Ed Stewart, founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary near
      Sacramento, Calif., said no one could be proud of keeping bears in pits.

      "We all know that the Cherokee are a proud nation," he said at the news
      conference.

      Stewart attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and had visited
      Cherokee as a child, but he said he was always unsettled by the sight of the
      captive bears.

      "This spectacle is what you'd see in a Third World country. If you go to
      Cherokee, go to see the museums or the casino, but please don't go to see
      the Cherokee bears," he said.

      Barker called on Hicks and the Eastern Band to release the captive bears to
      Stewart's sanctuary.

      Stewart said the bears would die if released into the wild and will have to
      be cared for by humans for the rest of their lives. "But there's a spectrum
      of captivity, and concrete pits are the very bottom," he said.

      The three roadside zoos on the reservation - Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief
      Saunooke Bear Park and Santa's Land - are inspected by the U.S. Department
      of Agriculture, which makes sure they comply with the federal Animal Welfare
      Act.

      The Eastern Band's 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.

      "We'll have ongoing conversations" with these businesses, Hicks said. "There
      may be opportunities for us to help them expand, but we're not going to
      close the door and not be open to ideas."

      Hicks said it was offensive for Barker and PETA to threaten a tourism
      boycott.

      "It's best for Bob Barker to stay in California and let us do what we know
      how to do here," he said.
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