Ben’s Pain

Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF's Executive Director on April 23, 2012

Living in Alaska, if you enjoy the outdoors it’s a wonderful fact of life that there are bears in almost every corner of the state. Having lived in Alaska for nine years, I was lucky to see bears in the wild many times. Having watched them in the wild and learned about their amazing intelligence, playfulness and zest for life, it breaks my heart to see bears in captivity.

On one outing a friend and I watched a mother bear lead her two young cubs to swim across a frigid glacial river. She plunged in with the two youngsters paddling close behind. But two-thirds of the way across one of the cubs, probably tired or chilly, hauled himself out on a rock. The mother and her other cub got across and started into the woods when she realized he was not there. She turned around quickly and saw him on the rock. He made pathetic little cries and dipped a paw in the water, clearly not wanting to get back in the freezing river. Finally, Mom had had enough and she bellowed at him. At that, he instantly jumped in and swam the rest of the way across. When he climbed out she laid her paw on his back and licked his face, reassuringly, and then led both cubs into the woods. It was such a touching display of tenderness and motherly love, the moment has stuck with me forever.

Last week I was forced to watch another bear, Ben, pace in his pathetic concrete and chain link enclosure in North Carolina. His sadness and mental and physical anguish is palpable. Here is a video of Ben in his cage:

After spending several hours observing Ben, bear expert Else Poulsen opined that Ben "is suffering greatly and intervention is critical at this time." She further explained, "Ben exhibits the typical aberrant behaviors of a sensory deprived bear in a substandard enclosure with substandard husbandry practices. His day consists of pacing, begging for bread from visitors, and sleeping–nothing else."

What’s more, Ben’s owners, Jambbas Ranch, have been repeatedly cited by the USDA for years for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including unsanitary conditions, hazardous enclosures, failure to provide adequate veterinary care, and failure to supply sufficient quantities of food and potable water. Yet the agency has continued to renew Jambbas’ license.

ALDF and others have filed suit to force the USDA to revoke the license; it’s our hope that Ben will be able to live out his life at an excellent sanctuary where he can act more like a bear. Please help us free Ben by signing our petition to the USDA.