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Wildlife Advocates Urge Bearizona to Sever Ties with Questionable Bear Facilities

Photo by Steven Kazlowski

The advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling on a wildlife park near Williams to sever its relationships with three other animal facilities. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, those out-of-state businesses have all received citations from the federal government for animal-handling infractions.

A letter from PETA to Bearizona urges managers at the drive-through wildlife park to stop doing business with the companies. All three have been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for various offenses including animal abuse.

Emily von Klemperer is the director of legal and corporate affairs for PETA.

“When Bearizona transfers bears to these facilities they should be aware that this sort of despicable abuse is going to happen,” von Klemperer says.

According to documents from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, in 2012 Bearizona sent bear cubs to a facility in Minnesota that had been previously cited by the USDA. Federal documents show that facility allowed a customer to kill a captive bear in 2005. The company’s Animal Welfare Act License was terminated in 2013.

A separate company in Texas that received bears from Bearizona was also cited by the USDA for neglect and failing to provide veterinary care.

A third company in Michigan was also cited for abuse. Dean Oswald is the owner of Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry. Last year he received two bear cubs from Bearizona. Oswald believes there’s a fine line between bear training and cruelty.

“A young bear is the same as a young puppy dog. They go through that little nipping stage. And you, to discipline a young puppy you slap him. You slap him and you say, ‘Hey, no!’” Oswald says.

In an e-mail to KNAU, Bearizona’s chief operating officer Vanessa Stoffel says the facility would never knowingly place animals in harm’s way.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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