News Column

Keep bear act out of state fair, group says

May 9, 2014

By Timothy Hurley, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

May 09--An animal rights group is raising objections to a performing bear show scheduled to run for three weeks at the upcoming 50th State Fair.

Cathy Goeggel, president of Animal Rights Hawaii, described A Grizzly Experience as a tawdry traveling show that exploits animals and subjects them to cruel long-distance travel.

Goeggel also called the show potentially dangerous considering the company's record, which includes the escape of a small bear from its Naples, Fla., home. In January 2013, "Booboo," a 100-pound bear cub, escaped from its enclosure and spent three days at large before being caught and returned by Florida Fish and Wildlife.

In addition, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors have ordered the owner to improve inadequate facilities and security, according to records.

"I don't understand how they could allow them to come in here with a record like this," Goeggel said.

But Dexter Osborn, trainer and owner of A Grizzly Experience, said Goeggel is blowing the incidents out of proportion. He said that while Booboo escaped from its pen, it did not leave the 8-acre property. As for the inspections, he described them as minor corrections with which the company has complied.

Osborn said A Grizzly Experience is an educational show that allows people to get up close and personal with one of North America's top predators. It teaches audience members how to be safe in bear country, he said.

"We're not a circus act in no way, shape or form," he said.

The bears will perform and be on exhibit at the Aloha Stadium fair May 23-June 8. Featured will be three bears: Tonk, a 9-year-old, 600-pound grizzly, along with two smaller bears: 250-pound Yogi, 3, and Maggie, 1.

An import permit allowing the bears into the state was approved April 2 by Scott Enright, chairman of the state Board of Agriculture.

This will be the second time a bear show has appeared at the 50th State Fair. In 2000 a show by a different operator participated in the fair without incident.

Donna Smith, vice president of EK Fernandez Inc., the fair's operator, said animal activists always object to animal acts. But EK Fernandez, she said, only deals with reputable outfits that abide by government rules and regulations.

Smith said her company would not get involved with any company that mistreats or abuses its animals and wouldn't want to put the public in danger in any way.

"We've had lions and tigers, bears, sea lions and alligators, and we've never had a problem," Smith said.

Osborn said he uses only positive reinforcement to train his bears.

"Can it be dangerous? Of course, she's a grizzly bear," he said, referring to Tonk, who stands at 7 1/2 feet.

Osborn said the travel is easy for his bears in a 25-foot air-conditioned trailer that will be brought in by ship to Hawaii. Osborn said he will travel with the bears, keeping them "clean and happy" during the voyage.

Goeggel said Animal Rights Hawaii calls for an end to the animal exploitation and to allowing the long-distance transport.

"Schlepping them from fair to fair to fair is a cruel life for an animal," she said.

She noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous Tyke incident, in which a circus elephant killed a trainer and escaped during a performance at the Neal Blaisdell Center and rampaged around Kakaako before being shot 86 times by police and killed.


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Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)

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