Look, do not touch

bear cubPhoto credit: Ray Morris, licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

update The bear cub was not killed. They held it for ten days in quarantine, which most likely means the petting zoo bought the bear cub through an exotic animal dealer, and it wasn’t “wild”. Currently the bear cub is being cared for at the St. Louis Zoo, while the incident is under investigation.

earlier A story receiving wide circulation today is about a bear cub having to be destroyed for rabies testing because it bit students at an event at Washington University in St Louis. The wild bear cub was brought to the event as part of a petting zoo.

I first read about it in an article in St. Louis Today, but the story is showing up in all of the local media.

Petting zoos are a leading source of both salmonella and E.Coli poisoning. In all but rare cases, such as petting zoos at larger well-established zoos, petting zoos are also an unhealthy, miserable life for the animals. Both of these problems are accentuated when exotic animals are introduced into the mix.

Because of this act, this bear cub—most likely bought through our disreputable but legal exotic animal trade—is going to be killed for rabies testing, because it did what any animal would do in a situation where it was stressed and frightened: it bit people. Not seriously, but enough to break the skin with some of the folk, and that’s enough to doom it.

The University states that it demanded only domestic animals, but such a demand doesn’t make the act better. Petting zoos, especially small, poorly maintained operations, are miserable places for the animals. They’re also potentially very hazardous for humans because of the aforementioned salmonella and E.Coli poisoning risk. Now we can add rabies to the list.

I doubt the bear cub had rabies—they rarely do in the wild. But it died just because some students want a selfie for Facebook.

The petting zoo is Cindy’s Zoo, owned by Cindy Farmer. She’s licensed with the USDA under the name Cindy Farmer-Ryan. A quick lookup in the APHIS database turns up numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act. So many that the operation is on a multiple-inspections-a-year track.

What a tragic end for this poor cub. Bluntly, it’s time to start putting down some rules about exotic animals in this free-for-all state. And it’s past time for Wash U to find some other way to help students release stress. I suggest jogging.

update: Riverfront Times has a story about the cancellation of an event using this same petting zoo. The story contains a link to a video featuring the poor little bear. It’s just a baby.

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