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Like most wild animals, bears thrive in their native habitat. When they are taken from their environment and placed into an artificial enclosure, these animals go from being ferocious predators to hollow versions of themselves. Without open space to roam and plenty of opportunities to hunt and engage with the world around them, these animals start to become understandably frustrated and even depressed, spending their days pacing and trying to avoid screaming visitors.

Life in captivity is really no life at all for bears, and sadly this is exactly the sort of existence the bears at the Cherokee Bear Zoo, in North Carolina, are faced with.

In this facility, a dozen bears live in filthy, concrete pits with nothing else to do all day but pace back and forth and beg visitors for food. What a life! Without any natural habitat, they cannot dig or forage for food like they would in nature. Instead, they walk in endless circles, day after day, bored and miserable.

Despite the efforts of Animal rights activists to speak up for these poor bears, the zoo itself has made no effort whatsoever to provide them with more stimulation and natural habitat. Even though the zoo has been cited numerous times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their inability to meet federal standards, the bears are still living their lives in filth, misery and hunger.

Callouses, Bruising, and Obesity

Sadly, the bears’ dire circumstances are already taking a toll on their health. Unlike in the wild, where bears would live their lives on soft dirt and grass, the Cherokee bears are forced to spend their mornings and nights on concrete, which puts a lot of pressure on limbs and tissue leading to physical injuries such as bruising, muscle strain, footpad lesions, and callouses. Because concrete absorbs heat, it can also cause burns on hot days.

Every bear at the zoo seems to have some problem or another. A few of them have footpad callouses, many of them have worn down claws, and some of them are overweight. They’re also prone to skin conditions, dental problems and osteoarthritis. In other words, they’re not in great shape. Then again, what can you expect? These poor bears are living in dire conditions, cooped up in concrete pits all day and night. It’s bound to leave scars.

This video from PETA shows one of the bears limping as a result of an injury. 

What Happens to Bears in Captivity?

Humans and bears don’t have the relationship that Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh had. At least, not in the wild they don’t. Bears, people must remember, are wild animals with specific needs that must be met. Needs that captivity rarely if ever meets. And despite what Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh say, bears are far from silly.

In fact, bears are highly intelligent animals with a wide range of feelings. Most wild bears are commonly active for up to 18 hours a day. They spend their days foraging for food and digging in soft earth and leaves, making the most of their acute sense of smell.

In captivity, they are unable to do any of this. And when they are unable to act like a normal bear, putting their intelligence and senses to good use, they face something even more distressing than their dire surroundings: mental illness.

Zoochosis, the term for mental illness exhibited by captive animals, is common among animals living in unnatural conditions. To cope with the frustration and confusion that comes with not being able to exhibit their natural behaviors, wild animals develop stereotypical behaviors. These actions can range from rocking back and forth to pacing or even self-mutilation. Bears often pace, self-mutilate, and head roll.

How Can You Help?

Fortunately, many bears living in pits throughout the U.S. have been rescued and transferred to sanctuaries. Not all bears have the same luck. The bears in Cherokee Park, for example, are still imprisoned, stripped of stimulation, and companionship.

If you would like to help the dozen bears suffering at the Cherokee Bear Park in North Carolina, please tell the USDA to ban bear pits now.Alec Baldwin recently lent his voice to help these bears, you can join him by signing this petition and sharing this article! The more voices, the better.

Image Source: PETA