To the Editor:
Little has changed in Cherokee since a 1989 Parade Magazine cover story, “Are Our Zoos Humane?” named a Cherokee bear exhibit as one of the 10 worst zoos in America. Thus, I was very pleased to read your story, “Cherokee entertains idea of bear sanctuary,” and learn that there is finally some talk about improving conditions for these magnificent animals currently languishing in pits and cages. Imagine if you (or your dog) were kept in a cramped cage or concrete pit, unable to express the simplest of natural behaviors, and forced to beg for food from tourists.
Cherokee zoos have been repeatedly cited by the USDA for inadequate housing, injury hazards such as protruding nails and structurally unsound shelters, inadequate veterinary care for sick and dying animals, lack of sufficient space, lack of adequate foods, etc. And USDA standards are quite minimal.
Several years ago, Bob Barker wrote the following to Chief Michell Hicks: “The pacing, begging and moaning evident in the bear displays in Cherokee are signs that their most basic needs are not being met … the archaic caging and public feeding must go.” At the time, Chief Hicks reacted with anger and denial. I commend him for finally acknowledging the need for change, although I am sorry to read that he opposes removing the bears from the reservation.
I think the best answer is for these animals to be sent to bona fide sanctuaries to live out the rest of their natural lives in peace, and for the reservation to say no to captive animal exhibits.