JACKSON — A national animal rights group has asked Grand Teton National Park and its parent agency to refrain from ever again sending a wild bear to the midwestern Oswald’s Bear Ranch.
The facility on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals argues, does a poor job of humanely housing animals like the two black bear cubs it received from Teton park in October. The cubs were shipped off after their mother was euthanized for habituated behavior.
“Oswald Bear Ranch is a roadside zoo with a sordid history of skirting the law and forcing vulnerable cubs to be used for stressful photo-op encounters to turn a profit,” PETA’s Brittany Peet wrote to Teton park Deputy Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail in a letter dated Wednesday.
PETA contends that the ranch now rearing the two Jackson Hole-born cubs has substandard accreditations, frequent run-ins with regulators and a history of putting its employees in danger.
The facility’s founder, Dean Oswald, disputed the charges when reached by the Jackson Hole Daily on Wednesday.
“They got more money than they got brains,” Oswald said of PETA. “We’ve been cleared by the USDA. We’ve been checked and cleared by [Michigan] OSHA.
“It’s harassment, and it’s bulls—t,” he said, “is what this is.”
Grand Teton National Park officials reached Wednesday afternoon had yet to review the letter and declined to comment.
Roadside feeding along Signal Mountain Road, which emboldened the cubs’ mother before she was captured and killed, spurred the exchange between PETA and the National Park Service.
The two parties who fed the bears were caught and cited, and they could face up to a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. The charges are still not adjudicated, as the bear feeders have a court date in Mammoth the morning of Jan. 3, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Pico said. The defendants, one of whom was visiting from China, will phone in for the mandatory appearance, he said.
Oswald named the two transplanted cubs Teton and Wyoming, and he said they assimilated quickly to their new captive digs. The sibling cubs were hibernating Tuesday, he said, as were the other 37 bears that reside in the ranch’s four outdoor enclosures.
“The guys that they brought me, they were sitting in my lap within about two weeks of getting here,” Oswald said. “These bears here are my babies, and I’ve been doing this since 1984.”
The goal of PETA’s letter was to convince the Park Service to use only facilities accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries or Association of Zoos and Aquariums — accreditations the bear ranch lacks. The ranch instead is accredited by the Zoological Association of America.
“We’re asking them to not ever place bears there again,” PETA’s Debbie Metzler told the Daily, “but we’re not asking them to disrupt those cubs’ lives further.”