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Fight over best way to lift Michigan's ban on breeding large carnivores

Apr 13, 2018

Tyson Bear, believed to be the largest black bear in North America
Credit Oswold's Bear Ranch

The Michigan Legislature is considering bills that would allow both zoos and other facilities to breed large animals, like bears, tigers, or lions.

But the Detroit Zoo says only zoos can keep both large carnivores and the public safe. From its statement:

Robust, credible and enforceable processes for evaluating animal care and welfare, facilities, safety protocols and policies, conservation programs and more, require extremely rigorous and costly inspections by multiple highly and uniquely trained and experienced zoologists, exotic animal veterinarians and other professionals.

But Monty Oswald of Oswald's Bear Ranch disagrees.  The ranch is one of a handful of tourist attractions in the Upper Peninsula.

People can watch the bears swimming in ponds, climbing trees, playing and fighting -- just about every normal bear activity except for making cubs, because the ban means males and females have to be kept separate.

People can also feed the cubs at the ranch.

The bill would set oversight standards with a board that includes the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Zoological Association of America.

The Detroit Zoo is accredited by the American Zoological Association.  

"But one shoe doesn't fit every facility," says Oswold. "So if they (zoos) are going be allowed rights to breed carnivores, then all the other facilities should be allowed to breed them, as long as there are standards that are met."