The HSUS Urges Mich. Legislators to Maintain Restrictions on Public Contact with Bears

The Humane Society of the United States is asking Michigan legislators to reject Senate Bill 1236, a bill that puts public safety and animal welfare at risk by allowing the public to handle bear cubs up to approximately nine months of age. The HSUS issued a report detailing the type of dangerous and inhumane incidents that may occur if the legislature passes the bill.

Michigan, along with more than 30 other states, restricts private possession of bears. Current law also prohibits public contact with large carnivores. SB 1236 would roll back this common-sense protection and significantly weaken the Large Carnivore Act, a law intended to minimize dangers associated with keeping wild animals in captivity.

The HSUS report, “Michigan’s Large Carnivore Act: An Overview of Senate Bill 1236 and its Adverse Impact on Captive Bear Welfare and Public Safety,” details the disastrous outcomes of interactions with captive bears since 1990 — five deaths nationwide, including one in Michigan, scores of injuries, including a dozen children hurt, and numerous escapes by captive bears. The report also summarizes problems with Michigan bear facilities that display their animals to the public and have a history of serious welfare and/or safety issues. SB 1236 would permit these sub-standard facilities to endanger the public by allowing direct contact with bears up to about nine months of age.

“More and more states are cracking down on private possession of dangerous wild animals, and Michigan should not take a step backwards just so someone can have a picture of himself with a bear cub,” said Jill Fritz, Michigan state director for The HSUS. “Young bears have sharp teeth, powerful jaws, and non-retractable claws that can inflict serious injury. Lawmakers should be strengthening our laws that deal with public safety and the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals as pets, not punching holes in them.”

The practice of handling and using bear cubs for photo opportunities and other interactions with the public is stressful for bear cubs who are prematurely removed from the nurturing care of their mothers—a common practice to facilitate public contact. During photo and play sessions with the public, the cubs may also be exposed to abusive and excessive handling. New bear cubs will continuously be imported into Michigan to replace the bears who grow too large for public handling—with older bears being warehoused or transferred to other abusive situations. Bears are highly intelligent, active animals who quickly develop neurotic behaviors when kept in small, barren cages—conditions commonly found at facilities offering this type of public interaction.

Several animal welfare organizations including The HSUS recently filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prohibit public contact with captive bears, big cats and primates.

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