Cherokee Bear Zoo May Face Lawsuit on Grizzlies’ Behalf

Posted on March 18, 2013

Animal Legal Defense Fund Intends to Sue for Suffering Grizzly Bears Under the Endangered Species Act

For immediate release

Lisa Franzetta, ALDF

Cherokee, N.C. — While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has suspended the exhibitor’s license for Chief Saunooke Bear Park–where a PETA investigation revealed that bears pace aimlessly in barren cages and broke their teeth on metal cage bars–the Cherokee Bear Zoo (CBZ), which keeps bears in virtually identical conditions, remains open. Now, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has sent a 60-day notice letter to Barry Coggins, owner of CBZ, notifying him of the group’s intention to sue the rundown park under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on behalf of the protected grizzly bears who are held there. The lawsuit will seek forfeiture of the bears.

The ESA lists grizzly bears such as Lucky, Layla, Marge, and Elvis–the grizzlies at CBZ–as "threatened," and it is illegal to harm, wound, or harass them. The following violations occur at CBZ:

  • The bears are kept in barren concrete pits that are a fraction of the size of a bear’s normal range in the wild. They are also denied everything that is natural and important to them, including opportunities to den, to escape confrontation with other bears, and to take shelter from inclement weather.
  • As a result of their inadequate environment, the grizzlies all exhibit behavior–such as pacing–that indicates intense stress and psychological harm.

"Bears belong in the wild or in reputable sanctuaries, not in barren pits," says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. "The Endangered Species Act is designed to protect grizzlies from harm and harassment–and that’s exactly what the bears at Cherokee Bear Zoo face every day."

On Tuesday evening, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council will consider a resolution proposed by tribal elders that would close all bear pits in Cherokee.

A copy of ALDF’s notice letter is available upon request. ALDF was founded in 1979 with the unique mission of protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. For more information, please visit

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