Posted: 13 September 2013. Updated: 11 December 2013
For up to an hour a day, they are dressed up in clothes, have muzzles strapped around their mouths and are made to dance and perform demeaning tricks – around 90% of their time is spent caged in tiny cells in a prison truck. This is life for a group of bears, owned and trained by Texas-based James and Tepa Hall, currently touring the U.S. as ‘Bear Mountain’, ‘Hall’s Bears’ or ‘Castle’s Bears’, in circuses and at county fairs.
ADI investigators monitored the day to day life of the bears at circuses and county shows in five states – South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa – and found that the bears spend around 90% of their time shut in their cages inside a trailer. Their time outside these miserable prison cells generally averages just 10 minutes a day on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends. Our video shows one bear desperately circling a small steel cage measuring about 31/2 feet wide, by 6ft deep and about 8ft high. The steel floor of this barren cage is covered in just a scattering of sawdust.
The bears – Syrian bears Giza, Zuzu and Nemo, and European brown bears Tutter and Nanook – are muzzled and led out on leashes for the performances. In an unnatural and demeaning display these intelligent and mighty animals are forced to walk on their hind legs, do handstands, dance, balance on a ball, ride a bicycle and a motorcycle. After their sad outing they are led back to the 24-foot long trailer and caged again.
The windows of the trailer are approximately 10-11 ft. off the ground, covered in thick steel mesh, high above the bears’ heads so there is no view for them to look out. During the ADI observations, daytime temperatures ranged from the 80s to the low 90s. The lights are kept on until approximately 1am and fans blow noisily.
For the Bear Mountain stage shows, the bears were transferred to cages at the back of the stage for short periods of time – but still spent most of the day in their cages inside the trailer.
Sadly, it appears that the bears have been subjected to these living conditions for at least several years. In June 2009, the USDA reported on the extreme temperatures that the bears were exposed to . Their citation states: "Upon entering the trailer the eldest bear, approximately 33 years old, was lying on the floor of her enclosure staring vacantly into space. The exhibitor aroused the animal with treats then it proceeded to pant heavily. Surface temperatures were taken of the floor and halfway up the wall approximately animal height which ranged from 94 to 90 degrees. The outdoor ambient temperature was measured to be 92.8 degrees F with the heat index recently being in the 100’s. The transport vehicle does have large fans which blow into the upper portion of the cargo space. During the inspection the exhibitor added a fan which lowered the temperature to 88 degrees F. Additional measures need to be taken to protect the animals from extremes of temperature, to provide for their health and to prevent their discomfort. The temperature shall not be allowed to fall below nor rise above temperatures compatible with the health and comfort of the animal. Affects five adult bears.”
ADI has filed a complaint, calling on the USDA to investigate Hall’s Bears/Castle’s Bears for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
For such intelligent animals, this is a tortuous way to live. Bear species are known for their intelligence and inquisitive nature, for their desire to explore great distances each day and their enjoyment of anything new and interesting. These animals are deprived of almost everything that is natural to them and are suffering terribly. The living conditions that they have to endure are some of the worst we have witnessed for circus animals.
It is urgent that federal measures are introduced to end the use of wild animals in traveling shows. As more and more countries around the world prohibit traveling exhibitions like this, the United States is steadily being left behind.
Jamil Shrine Circus, Colombia, South Carolina
Richard B. Buzhardt, Potentate
“India” Shrine Circus, Oklahoma State Fairgrounds
Moolah Shrine Circus, St. Charles, Missouri
Mark Rethemeyer, Circus Director
Cherokee County Fair, Cherokee, IA
Bureau County Fairgrounds, Princeton, IL
Pete Reviglio, President