December 16, 2013
RESTON, Va. – In Virginia and around the country, hundreds of bears in captivity live in small, concrete pits and cages without a hint of their natural habitat. Since they cannot speak for themselves, one of the world’s largest animal welfare groups wants humans to speak up for them.
Delcianna Winders, director of captive law, PETA Foundation, said the USDA is taking public comment on stronger rules for humane treatment of bears, prompted by a lawsuit by her organization. Under the Animal Welfare Act, she said, bears used for exhibition are supposed to be treated humanely.
“However, the regulations that are applied are exceedingly general,” she said, “and the USDA has failed to protect bears under these standards.”
PETA’S lawsuit asked for more space, proper nutrition and a place for bears to forage, climb and bathe, among other conditions. Winders said roadside zoos are the biggest culprits for violations. About a year ago, a roadside zoo director in Fairfax County was convicted of animal cruelty and sentenced to a month in jail.
Scientific research has surfaced over the years showing what bears need, Winders explained. Bears are intelligent and as complex as primates, and can suffer from stress and physiological dysfunction in captivity, she said.
“So, 30 years ago, there may have been an excuse for keeping a bear in a concrete pit, arguably. At this point, there’s absolutely no excuse,” Winders said.
PETA has been working for more than a year to get federal government attention on this issue, and is counting on the public to weigh in, she added.
Public comments are being taken by the USDA until Jan. 27 at www.regulations.gov.
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