Cherokee bear pit owner's license suspended

Jan 29, 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released an order that suspends Chief Saunooke Bear Park's exhibitor license and fines the facility $20,000.

This action comes just a few months after multiple complaints from PETA and after the USDA charged Chief Saunooke with more than a dozen violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) for, among other abuses, failing to provide the bears with adequate housing, food, and veterinary care. According to the settlement, Chief Saunooke's license will remain suspended until it's able to demonstrate full compliance with the AWA—if it ever can.

"Suspending Chief Saunooke Bear Park's license and slapping it with a fine is a good step—and the next one should be to close down this lawbreaking and abusive exhibitor completely," says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcianna Winders. "PETA stands by to help the park transfer these neglected animals to a reputable sanctuary where they'll have the veterinary care, food, and other essentials that they have been denied for years."

The USDA's action followed PETA's formal complaints, PETA's meetings with the USDA and members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and PETA's 62-page report from ursine experts who visited the bear park and noted many apparent violations of the AWA, several of which were cited in the USDA's complaint. These include repeated failure to maintain an adequate barrier between bears and the public, leading to at least two attacks on park visitors; failure to supply food for public feeding that meets bears' nutritional needs (visitors have been encouraged to feed the bears Lucky Charms); and repeated failure to provide adequate veterinary care, among other abuses.

The USDA's action comes less than a month after PETA released footage from its undercover investigation into Chief Saunooke that revealed ongoing cruelty to animals, racism, drug use, apparent wage-law violations, and more. PETA documented that staff members deliberately deprived bears of food and that the animals are so stressed by their constant confinement to small concrete pits that they pace repeatedly, gnaw at the metal cage bars, and exhibit other signs of suffering.