Their tribal council has not taken action, so two elders in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are.
They have sued a North Carolina roadside zoo they say keeps grizzly bears confined in “barren and archaic concrete pits,” Mitch Weiss of the Associated Press reports.
An attorney for two tribal elders filed the lawsuit Tuesday, 60 days after they filed a notice of intent to sue the operators of the Cherokee Bear Park for violating the federal Endangered Species Act. The act allows citizens to file lawsuits for violations, but it requires them to give 60-days’ notice to the violators and federal regulators.
“It’s shameful that the Cherokee Bear Zoo is still displaying intelligent, sensitive bears in tiny concrete pits,” said Amy Walker, who filed the lawsuit with fellow tribal elder Peggy Hill. “It’s obvious to anyone who sees them that these bears are suffering, and they will continue to suffer every day until they are sent to a sanctuary where they’ll finally receive the care they need.”
Some North Carolina residents have long campaigned to close this and two other privately owned bear zoos on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, including Chief Saunooke Bear Park and Santa’s Land.
Walker, Hill and other tribal elders became involved after watching a video that showed bears rocking back and forth and circling in the tiny pits.
They said bears hold a spiritual place in Cherokee history, and in February, pressed the tribal council to force the zoos to free the bears.
But the council declined to take action. Chief Michell Hicks later issued a statement saying he wanted to give private zoo owners the opportunity to create a wildlife preserve on the reservation.
The AP’s Weiss reports he Eastern Band has allowed caged animals as a tourism draw since the 1950s.
- Vince Devlin