Yellowstone hit with allegations of animal abuse from group that claims its bear ‘sanctuary’ is not all it seems


controversial Idaho bear park is duping visitors into thinking it is a conservation charity and is only pretending to keep its animals for life, campaigners have claimed.

Yellowstone Bear World is the only facility in the US where visitors are allowed to bottle-feed bear cubs.

But guests who pay $75 for the privilege are being tricked into thinking they are contributing to a ‘fundraiser’ for a non-profit ‘wildlife sanctuary’ that is actually an exploitative commercial operation, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The campaign group has filed a complaint to the state’s attorney general demanding he investigate it for breaches of consumer protection law.

‘An animal sanctuary is a facility that provides safe haven to animals in need,’ PETA director Michelle Sinnott wrote.

‘A business that breeds animals to exploit them for commercial exhibition and then sell them to other facilities is the exact opposite of a sanctuary.’

Yellowstone Bear World owner Courtney Ferguson keeps dozens of Grizzly and Black bears on the 112-acre site five miles south of Rexburg
Yellowstone Bear World owner Courtney Ferguson keeps dozens of Grizzly and Black bears on the 112-acre site five miles south of Rexburg
Peta has long campaigned against the animal park and managed to get an undercover investigator employed there in 2022
Peta has long campaigned against the animal park and managed to get an undercover investigator employed there in 2022

The dozens of Grizzly and Black bears on the 112-acre site five miles south of Rexburg make it one of the most popular attractions for the millions of tourists visiting Yellowstone National Park each year.

More than 30,000 people follow it on Facebook enchanted by pictures of playful bears and the elk, bison, moose and deer it also plays host to.

Peta claims the park routinely misleads customers into thinking the animals are there for life and has accused it of lying when former visitors ask for an update on the bears they have seen.

One commenter was reassured that a bear called Tucker was still at the facility when it had been sold six years earlier, the complaint alleges.

Another asked whether a 2020 photo of three bears playing in the snow were the cubs they had seen the previous year cubs.

‘Yep!’ Bear World responded. ‘These are the 2019 cubs, but in a few weeks it will be their birthday and they’ll be yearlings! Then they’ll move down to the yearling enclosure in the main area of our park so they have lots of room to run and play as they grow.’

But the complaint claims that Bear World had posted the same photograph in 2018 and that most of the 2019 cubs had already been sold.

The group cites US Department of Agriculture records which record the transfer of more than 100 bears to other facilities since 2012.

PETA director Michelle Sinnott has written to the Idaho Attorney General demanding action
PETA director Michelle Sinnott has written to the Idaho Attorney General demanding action
More than 30,000 people follow it on Facebook enchanted by pictures of playful bears and the elk, bison, moose and deer it also plays host to
More than 30,000 people follow it on Facebook enchanted by pictures of playful bears and the elk, bison, moose and deer it also plays host to

Many have gone to a menagerie in Illinois and from there onto slaughterhouses, it states.

‘The inconsistencies between YBW’s claim to provide life-long care for all cubs and the reality at the facility have not gone unnoticed by consumers,’ Sinnott wrote in her complaint.

‘For example, one customer noted in a review, ‘They claim all of their cubs grow up in the park but if you look at the number of cubs they have each year vs the number of bears they state they have in the park this does NOT line up’.

‘Consumers have relied on these statements when deciding to patronize Yellowstone Bear Park and some have later expressed confusion and anger at having been misled by its deceptive marketing.’

Peta has long campaigned against the animal park and managed to get an undercover investigator employed there in 2022.

It also organized a protest at the site last month against allowing visitors to feed the young bear cubs.

‘In nature, bear cubs spend their time playing, exploring, and socializing with one another and their mothers,’ it wrote.

‘But at Yellowstone Bear World, these curious and unweaned babies are taken away from their mothers prematurely and forced into close proximity with humans — whom they would naturally avoid.’

Idaho agreed to abolish state oversight of private zoos and drive-through animal parks last year in response to a campaign led by the park.

And its lobbyist Charlotte Cunnington told a senate committee that the bill was directly in response to PETA’s legal actions against it.

Peta group cites US Department of Agriculture records which record the transfer of more than 100 bears to other facilities since 2012
Peta group cites US Department of Agriculture records which record the transfer of more than 100 bears to other facilities since 2012

‘They utilize the agency complaint process to try to shut businesses like ours down, and we know that they will not stop,’ she told the Senate Resources and Environment Committee.

‘This bill will allow Yellowstone Bear World to run its business without constantly looking over its shoulder.’

Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador has yet to respond to the complaint.

This article by Dominic Yeatman was first published by The Daily Mail on 28 May 2024. Lead Image: The site is the only facility in the US where visitors are allowed to bottle-feed bear cubs.

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