Animal captivity just doesn’t make sense anymore, if it ever did. There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the cruelty of whales in captivity, mostly thanks to “The Cove” and “Blackfish,” but there are other animals that suffer just as much in the restrained worlds we force them to live in. As we’ve learn more about bears over the past few decades, it has become clear that certain captivity conditions will drive bears into a pacing insanity. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is trying to prevent this cruelty to bears by petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to apply specific regulations on holding bears in captivity.

PETA submitted the petition in September 2012 to the USDA, who initially ignored it. However, after a year of waiting, PETA filed a lawsuit against the agency claiming it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires the agency to respond to a petition in a reasonable amount of time. Just weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the petition is now open to public comment by the Federal Register.


PETA became aware of the lack of regulations protecting bears in captivity after saving Ben the bear from a roadside zoo in North Carolina in 2012. After successfully transferring Ben from a 12 by 22 foot concrete cage to a two acre sanctuary designed for him, they discovered that the USDA had failed to cite the roadside zoo for violations. The lack of enforcement of basic captivity standards of the Animal Welfare Act encouraged PETA to propose this petition to specifically address bears in captivity.

The 64-page petition offers a number of minimal guidelines to improving regulations for bears in captivity. These are general scientific-based suggestions that aim to create a species-appropriate environment. The petition suggests the following:

  • Space Requirements including larger areas for movement and larger bodies of water for cleaning
  • Sensory Stimulation and Enrichment to keep bears sensory and cognitive abilities working, while providing functional spaces
  • Privacy and Security for interaction between bears and humans observing them
  • Diet and Feeding Routines that reflect bears daily foraging patterns and not simple twice a day large feedings
  • Denning should be provided or allowed for the appropriate bear species as a necessity for the bears psychological health

What You Can Do

The Federal Register has opened up the proposed amendment to the Animal Welfare Act for comments from the public. If you wish to make a public comment you can do so online here, or you can mail a comment to:

Docket No. APHIS-2012-0106


Regulatory Analysis and Development

PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700


River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

All comments received on or before January 27, 2014 will be considered by the Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.


Of course, another solution to treating bears better in captivity is to simply not have them in captivity at all. We have the technology now to leave bears in the wild, and watch them live via web cameras. The Canadian nonprofit Pacific Wild Alliance is looking to do just that, offering an effective balance between public viewing of bears while leaving them in their natural habitat. Supporting initiates like Pacific Wild Alliance’s Great Bear LIVE project can eliminate the captivity of these psychologically sensitive animals, as well as many others.

Image Source: Airwolfhound / Flickr