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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bear Pits

Here in the Smokey Mountain the Bear is King.  They are used to advertize and sell just about everything.  I actually think that there are more fiberglass then flesh bears in these hills.  You may set out to see a bear in the woods, but they are hard to find, and you might get eaten.  Usually you are going to have to set for seeing a taxidermied bear.

Or a Fiberglass Bear.....

However, if you insist on seeing a real flesh and blood bear you may have to engage in a timeless and controversial practice:  The Bear Pit.

There are four active Bear Pits in different tourist towns.  Cherokee, NC has two of them.  Across the Mountain in Tennessee there is one in Pigeon Forge, TN and then a few hours South there is one in the bizarre Bavarian mecca Helen, GA.

Here is the basic idea behind the bear pit.  Take a concrete pit and fill it full of bears.  


Well, that would just being boring and sad, so you have to spice it up a bit.  As you enter you are give a plate of apple slices, stale bread and wilted lettuce.  You then chuck these pieces into the pits and the bears catch them in their mouths.  The following videos illustrate this process.

Some of the bears learn tricks to draw in more food, like this fellow who climbs up in a tree and claps.

Maybe a little degrading for something that could rip your head off with a swipe of his paw.

He looks a little more dignified here, reciting Shakespeare.

Cherokee Bear Zoo keeps other animals as well, such as this tiger.

and this monkey that makes faces and shakes his genitals at you........

Now these Bears pits have become very controversial and has lead to Peta starting a campaign against them.

They put up this billboard with a sad little bear.....

When that failed to win people over they replaced it with the following sign....

That is right....if you visit the pits, bears will eat your children!

Peta brought out its big guns and sent in Bob Barker to make an appeal to the chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee the have the bear pits shut down.

I forget which one is the real chief
 The Chief responded by banning Barker from the reservation.

I like to see myself as having a neutral point of view on this, but I have a confession to make.  I cannot say "no" to an opportunity to get close to wild dangerous animals.  At the Cherokee bear zoo I paid to have them let me hold a tiger.

and a bear....

As I went to pet the bear, the Hispanic gentleman that was handling the bear instructed me not to touch his face.

"He doesn't like having his face touched?"  I asked.

" is a bear," he replied.

Fell free to make up your own mind on the Bear Pits.  They are definitely a throw back to a type of zoo that is generally not seen in our modern culture.  Good or bad they are a pieces of roadside history.

The Carpetbagger

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  1. I sooooo wish that they could go away. I mean, there ARE ways to keep animals in captivity (if one HAS to) that involve grass, trees and something somewhat close to a natural habitat. The concrete and bars....oh my god. It just breaks my heart. I can remember going to the pits as a child. They also had all of these machines that had ducks, raccoons and rabbits in them and you'd put in a quarter and had to play games against the animals - tic-tac-toe, that sort of thing. The animals usually won because if they won, they got food.

    Do they still have those? I don't even want to know. There is an interesting conflict to the Indian people allowing the bears to be kept this way. I come from Indian people and know that we are supposed to always respect our animal kin. The concrete pits just seem like the opposite of that. I honestly think that if they could set up environments that were more like nice zoo enclosures, a LOT more people would come and the revenues would increase.

    1. My wife has pointed out that it goes against Native American culture.

      The animals games are gone, thank God. I am not going to argue that putting an animal in a vending machine is perverse. The most notorious example was the "dancing chicken".

      This was undoubtedly cruel and the reason the chicken dances is not the music, but rather that the floor is a hot plate and the chicken is trying not to get burned. That makes the bear pits seem not so bad in comparison

  2. we went to the bear pit in cherokee when we were there a few years ago (not the one with the tiger, the other one) because i remembered loving it as a kid, and it just made me sad. those bears were begging for the brown apples and dog food. i was tempted to get my picture witha bear cub though.

    1. Its one of those things that feels magical as a child, but makes you feel a little dirty as an adult

  3. The fiberglass animals in the beginning look awesome and I am sure children will love them and enjoy their time hanging around them.

  4. I just can imagine if a family of bears captured me and stuck me in a concrete pit with stale, dirty water and no place private to poop. The hemorrhoids alone would make me want to eat a child's head off.

  5. The Bear Zoo is still there with bears in pits ... It's so disturbing. My question is if PETA & Bob Barker couldn't stop them, who can?