Just saw a social media post about a bear that’d been encaged as a cub and made to perform tricks at roadside zoos for years and years.
Back in the early ’90s when I was traveling to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I noticed a caged bear exhibit on the side of the road outside Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He was obese and scruffily unhealthy looking. He sat on the concrete inside his cage like a blob. People could drop quarters into a little machine that’d spray out some dried corn kernels and the bear’d eat each portion. That was the entirety of his life.
All I wanted to do was turn the cage upside down and set the poor guy free. And if he and I were lucky, maybe he’d rough up the people who ran the exhibit or the bastards who’d been taunting him with sticks when my party and I pulled up.
From the moment I became aware of such things, I’ve been disgusted by all the different enterprises that offer so-called animal entertainment. Not that I disliked zoos as a kid or even an adult. I loved to simply stand there and watch elephants and tapirs and wild asses do nothing but live their lives. Then, after I became enlightened about how critters don’t quite thrive in enclosed spaces, I stopped going to zoos.
As an adult, I’d often go to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium on the lakefront. It featured an enormous dolphin tank, the perimeter of which was surrounded by grandstands. People’d pay ten or fifteen dollars a ticket to watch the keepers make the dolphins jump through hoops and perform other stupid tricks. I never bought a ticket to that show.
I’d walk underground where there were broad windows affording wide views into the tank. I’d get to watch the dolphins just swim by. I was fascinated by them. Sometimes I’d even fancy that they were noticing me, too. Now and then, I’d imagine I’d caught one or another dolphin’s eye. I wished I could convey to her/him that s/he, the being, was of interest to me, not the trickery going on above the surface.
Funny thing was, kids’d run up to the windows, gape at the dolphins, and then dash off. I’d want to scream, Don’t you see these magnificent creatures? Look at them, you dumb little shits!
The adults shepherding all those hyper little kids might cast a perfunctory glance in the direction of these gorgeous mammals. These sleek, aerodynamic, supple, muscular paragons of evolutionary mutation were riveting. Somehow, though, the kids and adults were spectacularly unimpressed with them except when they were jumping through hoops.
I suppose I’m the oddball. And, I might add, proud of it.
In any case, this bear I mentioned in the lead graf, was named Fifi and she is white-ish. She was captured some 30 years ago. Some people affiliated with PETA freed her — extralegally, perhaps — and now Fifi lives in the The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. This happened in 2015. Apparently, Fifi is now healthier and happier than ever. Her fur has grown rich and full and she bounces and flounces around the Sanctuary like a big kid.
Oh, alright, one more thing: I’m not at all infatuated with the PETA people but that doesn’t mean everything they do is objectionable or uncalled for. Rescuing this bear was an act of grace.