Animal rights group PETA asks Idaho to investigate ‘deceptive’ Yellowstone Bear World practices

Editor’s note: EastIdahoNews.com also reached out to Yellowstone Bear World about PETA’s complaint but did not receive a response.

Madison County (Idaho Statesman) – An often controversial animal rights group has asked Idaho’s attorney general to investigate a wildlife park’s commercial claims, which the activist group said misled the public into believing the park was a rescue operation.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, I filed a consumer protection complaint About Yellowstone Bear World Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s Office was urged to investigate alleged insinuations from the park and its employees that Yellowstone Bear World is a sanctuary or non-profit. The animal rights group also alleged that Bear World made misleading claims about keeping bears on its properties for life and falsely advertised the size of its properties.

Bear’s world is Drive through the wildlife park In eastern Idaho, it is home to many animal species, including black bears and the grizzly bears of the same name. The park has faced intense scrutiny over its animal care, bear husbandry and cubs’ bottle-feeding practices, especially after the 2020 documentary “Tiger King” drew attention to roadside animal exhibitors.

Complaints like PETA’s do not require the District Attorney’s Office to investigate. However, if the agency decides to pursue claims and finds that Bear World violates consumer protection laws, it could face fines for damages to customers, as well as an additional fine of $5,000 for each violation.

PETA officials told the Idaho Statesman that the Attorney General’s Office confirmed receipt of the complaint. The Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the complaint. The office previously told the Statesman that it could not comment on potential investigations.

Yellowstone Bear World president and co-owner Courtney Ferguson did not respond to an email request for comment.

PETA claims Bear World misled customers

PETA’s complaint alleges that Bear World violated the Idaho Consumer Protection Act by knowingly providing incorrect information to customers. Part of the complaint states that Yellowstone Bear World and its employees have, on numerous occasions, made statements portraying the park as a sanctuary rather than the for-profit exhibit it is.

Yellowstone Bear World’s profile on Meridian-based marketing platform Liiingo classifies the park as a “wildlife preserve” and a “bear sanctuary,” PETA said. PETA also included quotes from Ferguson, who it said repeatedly referred to Bear World’s cub bottle-feeding program as a “fundraiser.” The park charges $75 per person to pet and feed the cubs. According to the Bear World website.

PETA’s complaint said Ferguson told attendees at a promotional event in Amon, Idaho, last year that “all the money we raise at the fundraiser there all goes to educational programs, and goes back to caring for the animals there at Yellowstone Bear World.” “.

He made similar statements to a news anchor at a sports exhibition in Salt Lake City in 2022, according to the complaint.

“An animal sanctuary is a facility that provides a safe haven for animals in need,” PETA wrote in its complaint. “A business that raises animals for commercial display and then sells them to other facilities is the exact opposite of a sanctuary.”

PETA said it is widely understood that “fundraisers” are geared toward charities or causes.

The animal rights group also said Bear World misled customers about where the bears lived out their days. PETA included several social media screenshots of Bear World’s responses telling commenters that the cubs would spend their lives at its facility. Bear World made the same claims to the media.

PETA said USDA records showed that was not true. Records, included as appears in the complaintBear World showed it had transferred more than 100 bears to other facilities since 2012. Many of those bears were sent to Woody’s Menagerie in Illinois, where owner Greg Woody illegally purchased animals without a USDA license and was investigated for poor Animal care. Woody also sent bears and other animals to slaughterhouses, PETA said.

The complaint cited two instances in which it said it was clear that Bear World was intentionally lying to the public about keeping bears on site. In one post, a commenter asked if the bear named Tucker was still at the facility. Bear World responded and said it was, despite USDA records showing a bear named Tucker had been sold to Woody six years earlier. In the other case, a Facebook user commented on a 2020 photo of three bears playing in the snow and asked if they were the previous year’s cubs.

“Yes!” The bear scientist responded. “These are the cubs of 2019, but in a few weeks it will be their birthday and they will be babies! After that, they will move into the yearling enclosure in the main area of ​​our garden so they have plenty of space to run and play as they grow.

Bear World posted the same photo on social media in 2018, and was unable to obtain a photo depicting three of the 2019 cubs anyway because all but two had been sold to Woody, PETA said.

Finally, PETA’s complaint said Bear World advertised its park as a 120-acre facility, when parcel records from Madison County show the publicly accessible area is less than half that size. The entire parcel, including hard-to-access areas, is 112 acres, according to public property records.

PETA has a history of clashes with Bear World

The complaint is not the first time PETA has confronted Yellowstone Bear World. In the past, protesters from the group have picketed a Little Animal Days event, and in 2022, a PETA investigator worked at Bear World and claimed to have witnessed mistreatment of cubs, including one with a broken leg and being denied prescription painkillers.

PETA said its investigations were directly responsible for an OSHA investigation that resulted in three workplace safety violations for Bear World and $9,000 in fines.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has also cited Bear World in recent years for documenting animal births and deaths. Fish and Game officials told the Idaho Falls Post-Register they worked with Bear World to correct violations of state regulations against allowing the public to feed captive animals. Documents showed in 2022 that Bear World also clashed with the government agency when it insisted on being allowed to operate under terms and conditions established in 2001 that were no longer compatible with fish and game regulations.

Related | Yellowstone Bear World, fined by OSHA, pushes for law to eliminate oversight of wildlife parks

Last year, Bear World lobbied for a bill that would remove it and other private zoos and animal parks from state oversight, relying solely on USDA regulations, which are less stringent than Fish and Game regulations. The bill was signed into law.

Related | Governor signs bill to limit state regulation of Bear World

Charlotte Cunnington, a lobbyist for Yellowstone Bear World, told the Senate Resources and Environment Committee that the bill was a direct result of PETA’s secret 2022 operation.

PETA and other animal rights activists “are using the agency’s complaints process to try to shut down businesses like ours, and we know they won’t stop,” Cunnington said.

“This bill will allow Yellowstone Bear World to run its business without constantly looking over its shoulder,” Cunnington told lawmakers.

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