Bear Cub Bill Heads To Governor

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

Forget traveling to Animal Kingdom in Orlando, the bear cub bill is headed to Governor Snyder's desk.

That means you could soon be able to hold and take pictures with bear cubs at certain facilities throughout the state.

The legislation would allow people to cozy up with bear cubs under 9 months old or weighing no more than 90 lbs. It applies only to about seven facilities that were already offering bear cub visits, so it's basically a bill to grandfather them in.

Some people love the idea, like Rae Bennett, a fourth grader in Lansing visiting Potter Park Zoo.

"I think they're cute, and they're really soft, and I think people could hold them," Bennett said.

It's the kid in all of us that drives business at Oswald's Bear Ranch in the Upper Peninsula, and it's the main motivation for getting the bear cub bill signed into law. The ranch was deemed illegal last summer after more than 15 years in the community.

"When you look at what this does for this business, it is a draw," the bill's sponsor Senator Tom Casperson (R - Marquette) said. "The fact that folks can come and pet young little cubs, it's a draw, and so we don't want to discourage that, we want to encourage it."

Michigan's Association of Zoos and Aquariums feels just the opposite.

"Bears can be very dangerous. These animals are wild animals," Potter Park Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Tara Harrison said. "They're not meant to sit on people's laps and to have their pictures taken. These animals can be unpredictable."

Harrison said bears also pose a health risk as they can carry rabies and potentially fatal parasites for humans. Plus, experts consider bears dangerous at three months, let alone nine.

"These bears are very capable of inflicting a lot of damage and a lot of harm," Harrison said. "No amount of training is going to take that away."

The owner of the ranch, Dean Oswald, said in all his years and thousand of visitors, the worst that's happened are a few scrapes. Oswald said this bill is vital to helping not just his business get back on track, but also all Michigan tourism.

"I think the whole state of Michigan benefits," Oswald said. "You have people from all over the world that come here because we have bears, and we have a nice place."

Not everyone wants to get their own paws on the cubs though.

"I'd rather play with dogs and cats," Potter Park Zoo visitor Stephanie Amadio said. "Not a bear cub, it's not for me."

Governor Snyder could be playing with a bear cub soon. Because he does support the bill and is expected to sign it, the Oswalds have offered to bring down a couple of cubs for the signing ceremony.

The Oswalds hope that happens in the next week or two so they can start strong during the spring and summer seasons.

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  • by Star Swift Location: Grand Marais, MI on Mar 13, 2013 at 12:53 PM
    I love the bear ranch. The bears are given so much room to roam around & be bears in a natural environment. I thought the bears might smell, but then don't. You get to see them doing so many natural things. It is just so cool. And being able to pet the baby bears, or feed them. Just a bonus. I think it is a great place for people to learn about the bears & see them.
  • by Kandis Stephens Location: Michigan on Mar 13, 2013 at 10:50 AM
    My husband and I did this with our oldest child a few years ago, and it was the coolest thing for him to experiance. We went back last year and wasn't able too and he was really bummed out. The owners of Oswalds are great people and we enjoy going and watching all the rescues, and new cubs they have. You can tell they really care about them and they are not just doing it for the money. Its a very inexpensive family experience and we go there every time we are up there. This isn't just a "zoo" they actually let the bears live as if they are really living in the wild, unlike actual zoo's. Where they try to "create" the animals natural setting. We have gone to the Detroit zoo the past two years, and we get to feed the giraffes and no one seem's to have an issue with that. So, I don't see a problem with getting your picture taken or feeding a baby cub.
  • by Lori Mills Location: Hart Mi. on Mar 13, 2013 at 10:02 AM
    I think the bear cubs should be allowed to held.
  • by Cathy Nourse Location: Wautoma WI on Mar 13, 2013 at 09:48 AM
    I visit this bear ranch last year and loved it! The bears are in safe enclosures and all looked healthy. I loved being able to pet Lucas the baby bear. I've told lots of people about the great rescue program going one there.
  • by Anon on Mar 13, 2013 at 09:43 AM
    Poof !! Turn em into rugs!
  • by Bob Location: Midland on Mar 13, 2013 at 08:14 AM
    I have visited Oswald's on two occasions and been fortunate to be able to meet cubs both times. We are going back to the U.P. this summer and hope that we can visit for a third time and check on the growth of the old cubs and get to meet some new ones.
  • by Karen Phillips Location: Ohio on Mar 13, 2013 at 08:07 AM
    My husband and I spent a week in UP and went to Oswalds with the expectations of "just another zoo, only bears" We were pleasantly surprised by the informative , extremely well cared for and much loved bears in habitats that very closely resemble what the bears would be living in if they were in the wild. The fact that all of the bears were rescues as cubs that would have either ended up being euthanized or in a "zoo" or a worse fate . Instead they are healthy , cared for and used for education and give many the opportunity to see bears up close. Unfortunately it started pouring rain when we were contemplating getting our pictures taken with the cubs so we did not but look forward to doing so our next trip to UP. So glad this bill passed ! Oswalds Bear Ranch is a must see !
  • by roger oja Location: sawyer on Mar 13, 2013 at 07:39 AM
    People that are not able to get out in the woods will be able to see bear up close and i think they are doing a great job with the oswald bear ranch.Please allow this to pass into law.Thank you
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