Eleven bears from Cherokee that are now housed in a Texas animal sanctuary are adapting to being able to scratch in the dirt and climb trees.
The bears - six black bears, three grizzlies and two Asian black bears - required a new home when Chief Saunooke Bear Park had its license to publicly display bears suspended earlier this year by the U.S. Agriculture Department.
The violations levied against Chief Saunooke Bear Park include failure to provide adequate housing, food or veterinary care. The bear park was fined $20,000 and told its license would remain suspended until violations were corrected and the facility complied with the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Animal rights groups and activists, including Bob Barker, the former host of "The Price is Right," long had focused attention on the facility and demanded that it be closed. People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals last February released footage from an undercover investigation that it says showed Saunooke staff members deliberately depriving bears of food. The animals were so stressed by confinement to small concrete pits, PETA claimed, that they paced repeatedly and gnawed at the metal cage bars.
Richard Gilbreth, director of the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyd, Texas, said the bears from Cherokee appear to be adjusting well.
"They get to wander around and just be bears," Gilbreth said. "They seem to be enjoying life right now."
The 50-acre animal sanctuary is home to 77 animals - 28 bears and 49 felines. Gilbreth said an anonymous donor from California gave $450,000 so that new enclosures could be built on eight acres. Each bear has about one acre to itself, he said.
The International Exotic Animal Sanctuary was founded in 1988 to provide a permanent sanctuary for exotic animals that have been abused, abandoned, neglected confiscated or previously owned by people unwilling or unable to provide for them.