North Carolina bear pit shut down by federal officials

The recently closer bear park included a variety of species, including brown bears like the one seen above, pictured here in Montana's Glacier National Park (Photo: National Park Service).
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Brooks Hays

The Chief Saunooke Bear Park in Cherokee, North Carolina has been effectively shut down by federal officials after the park's owner was stripped of his exhibitor's license and fined $20,000 for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) .

The penalties are the result of a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last fall, alleging the zoo was failing to provide adequate food, veterinary care and habitat for the bears.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has campaigned against the park in an ongoing probe dating back to 2009. An undercover video shot by the activist group last year shows the bears confined to concrete enclosures and allegedly chewing on metal bars and rocking back and forth due to stress and boredom. It accuses staff members of purposely depriving the bears of food and failing to clean their enclosures.

Two members of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service surveyed the park posed as tourists in 2010. In their report, the inspectors found fault with the bears’ diet and environment but concluded that "the facility, while not optimal, meets AWA standards."

The roadside zoo will remain closed until the owner can prove he's capable of operating in compliance with animal welfare laws.