Bear Cubs Kidnapped From Their Mothers, Exploited in Encounters With the Public at Yellowstone Bear World

In 2022, a PETA investigator worked undercover at Yellowstone Bear World—a bear-breeding facility located in Rexburg, Idaho—and documented that a cub with a broken leg was denied prescribed treatment, traumatized cubs were desperate for their mothers, and an irate supervisor threatened to throw one of the vulnerable cubs across the room and rip out her teeth.

In their natural forest habitat, bears are curious, energetic, and on the move for most of the day, spending time foraging for a wide variety of foods and digging in the soft earth, underbrush, and leaves. Normally, black bear cubs spend up to two years by their mother’s side, growing and learning how to survive. But at Yellowstone Bear World, workers separate mother bears from their cubs by the time the babies are only 8 weeks old. Everything that gives their lives meaning is taken from them.

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What’s Wrong With Cub-Petting Encounters at Yellowstone Bear World?

Cubs at Yellowstone Bear World are used in photo ops and in bottle-feeding “encounters,” during which they’re handled and fed by around 12 customers a day. PETA’s investigator observed that cubs tried to nurse on the chins, necks, fingers, and arms of staff—a displaced suckling behavior often seen in animals who are attempting to soothe themselves after suffering through the trauma of premature separation from their mothers.

cub bites employee

Seeking comfort, this cub tried to suckle while being held in an unnatural position and forced to endure touching and handling by a crowd of visitors at an event at Yellowstone Bear World. (Photo taken by a member of the public in April 2022)

Frantic cubs used in bottle-feeding encounters with the public routinely bit, scratched, and bruised the staff. PETA’s investigator incurred 13 bites, some of which broke the skin. One supervisor lashed out when a cub named Tootsie bit her, threatening to “throw” her across the room and rip out her teeth “one by one.”

Yellowstone Bear World’s bottle-feeding encounters began when the cubs were nearly 5 months old, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), made them too large and strong to be used in direct contact with the public.

bears in captivity

After they become too large to use in profit-driven public encounters, cubs are moved to a drive-through enclosure. There, visitors in tour trucks toss them bread, which is not good for them in excess. They often have nothing to do but beg for food and pace back and forth, a sign of psychological distress.

Bears Deprived of Pain Relief and Appropriate Food, Threatened With Beatings

Pain felt by the bears often seemed to be ignored or dismissed. After one bear cub, Bean, fractured his leg and was limping, a supervisor told workers to withhold his prescription pain medication because, in her view, he was acting as if he wasn’t hurt. One supervisor said that she saw a 26-year-old black bear named Tigger “dragging her body … across the road” but a veterinarian was apparently not called to examine her. And after a member of the public recorded a car driving over the paw of one of the bears, workers apparently chose a bear at random for a veterinarian to examine because they didn’t know which bear had been injured, and they “just had to have the vet come out and look at somebody.”

bear cub exploited for public encounters

A bear named Bean (shown) fractured his leg, but a supervisor told workers to withhold his prescription pain medication.

Grizzly bears are omnivores whose natural diet includes roots, fruits, berries, and grasses as well as fish and other prey, but Yellowstone Bear World staff fed them only meat, bread, and sweets—and then “fasted” them one day a week, giving them only some doughnuts and cookies. Workers told customers that the black bears were fed fruit and vegetables, but the investigator never saw that happen.

PETA’s undercover investigator documented that Yellowstone Bear World workers were instructed to carry sticks into enclosures with yearling and adult bears. When a yearling escaped from an enclosure and was being chased by adult bears, a supervisor told a worker to “beat” any bear who came toward her.

Bred for Profit and Exploitation

One bear cub born unseasonably late was purportedly sent to a “home” in Nebraska because she was “too feisty” for public encounters. However, government records show that she was actually sold to an exotic-animal dealer who is known to have sent bears to slaughter. In the last decade, Yellowstone Bear World has shipped 88 bears to this dealer, including four cubs in 2022.

bear at yellowstone bear world

There are nearly 80 bears in the drive-through roadside zoo, some of whom are used for breeding. Cubs who aren’t exploited in public “encounters” at Yellowstone Bear World, as well as some adult bears, are shipped out to an unknown fate at destinations across the country. In the last decade, nearly 100 bears have been sent to exotic-animal dealers and exhibitors.

While bears are the main victims at Yellowstone Bear World, the facility also put other animals at risk during PETA’s investigation:

    • A Rocky Mountain goat apparently died shortly after undergoing an emergency C-section because she was having trouble delivering a stillborn kid. Staff admitted that they didn’t know the goat was in labor and that if they had realized sooner, she would have had a better chance of surviving.

 

    • A deer, Daisy, gave birth to four fawns, two of whom were stillborn and one of whom died the next day. A worker said that the previous year, two of Daisy’s three fawns also died, yet staff continued to breed her anyway.

PETA has submitted evidence of apparent violations to multiple regulatory agencies:

    • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration because of dangerous workplace hazards, i.e., allowing staff to enter enclosures and have direct contact with adult bears and to be regularly bitten by cubs

 

    • The USDA because of apparent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including failing to provide adequate veterinary care, using sticks to manage bears and threatening physical abuse, and allowing the public to have direct contact with cubs over 4 months of age

 

    • Idaho Fish and Game because of apparent violations of state law, i.e., failing to remove injured animals from public display, feeding bears inappropriate diets, and allowing unlawful, dangerous public feeding

Take Action for Cubs at Yellowstone Bear World

Please call on Yellowstone Bear World to stop breeding bears and to end cub photo ops and other public encounters.

Please send polite comments to:

Courtney Ferguson
[email protected]
President & Co-owner
Yellowstone Bear World

Please urge Yellowstone Bear World’s remaining promoters not to support the roadside zoo in the future.

Take Action for Cubs Exploited at Yellowstone Bear World

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