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Michigan's AZA-Accredited Zoos Oppose Bear Bill

February 22nd, 2013

All of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited institutions in Michigan – Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square in Saginaw, Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids and Potter Park Zoo in Lansing – met yesterday and expressed strong opposition to SB 48, a bill fast-tracking its way through the Michigan legislature that would allow public contact with a black bear up to nine months of age or weighing 90 pounds or less.

“We are deeply concerned that the legislature would consider any bill that puts animals and people in serious jeopardy,” said Detroit Zoological Society President and CEO Ron Kagan. “Any reasonable person would be concerned that bears, at whatever age and size, are dangerous. It’s common sense to vote against this bill.”

“Little bears grow up to be big bears,” said President and CEO of the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, Nancy Parker.  “If bears have become used to people, they can become an even greater hazard to the public and to law enforcement officials.”

Bears are unpredictable animals, and their bites and scratches can cause serious injury or death to humans. A recent study found that since 2000, 17 deaths from black bear attacks have been reported in the United States (Journal of Wildlife Management, May 2011). “Bears can also transmit a variety of serious and potentially fatal diseases to humans through close contact, including Baylisascaris transfuga (roundworm), rabies and tuberculosis,” said Dr. Jim Sikarskie, Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarian at Michigan State University.

“Additionally,” said Dr. Dalen Agnew, Pathologist at the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at Michigan State University, “risks of exposure to salmonella or leptospirosis are increased through close contact with bear cubs and can be especially serious in young children and the elderly.”

“From a public health and safety perspective, I would advise people to avoid contact with bears entirely,” said Dr. Tara Harrison, Veterinarian at Potter Park Zoo. “We hope that members of the Michigan legislature listen to the experts and vote against SB 48,” added Sherrie Graham, Director of Potter Park Zoo.

Bears can be safely viewed in Michigan at institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.  These zoos, which meet the highest standards of animal care and welfare, share the important mission of public education and wildlife conservation.

“Our message is that we should respect wildlife, which means that if you see a bear outside of the zoo, you should stay away from it and appreciate it from a safe distance,” added Diane Thompson, President and CEO of Binder Park Zoo.

“Ninety pound bears are capable of attacking and eating a deer in the wild,” said Andy McIntyre, Acting Director at John Ball Zoo. “It is not safe to allow people to come into contact with bears.”