A lonely gray wolf sits in a small cage with a concrete floor. His name is Bear, and this tiny room in a dilapidated roadside zoo in Pennsylvania has been his home for most of his life. What Bear doesn’t know, however, is that on this particular day, he isn’t quite so alone.
For loneliness was all that Bear knew up until that point in his life. In fact, Bear lived for years in a cramped cell at Animaland Zoological Park, a roadside animal attraction in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. His concrete enclosure was identical to many others in the zoo, with each one holding different animals. But Bear was the only wolf at the park.
Of course, wolves are exceptionally social creatures, so Bear’s isolation was deeply incongruous with his instincts. For instance, instead of roaming with his wolf pack and securing a mate, Bear had not seen another of his kind in years.
What’s more, Bear’s neighbors included a Siberian tiger named Baby, an arctic fox, a bobcat and three capuchin monkeys. A pair of black bears, named Shawn and Sandy, were also kept in too-small quarters at the roadside zoo.
However, not only were enclosures small and cramped, but they also had only cement floors and no provisions for comfort or rest. These barren cells restricted the animals’ movement, and Animaland apparently did not provide them with any additional stimulation or exercise.
Thankfully, Bear and his companion’s suffering did not go unnoticed. In fact, local visitors were so distraught by what they saw at the zoo that they contacted the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).
When it comes to fighting to protect animals from injustice, the ALDF is one of the top agencies. Therefore, in March 2016 the group filed a federal lawsuit against Animaland for not providing adequate care for the animals.
However, Animaland’s owners, James and Kathleen Melko, claimed that they weren’t mistreating the animals. In fact, they argued that they had been helping the animals for the past 14 years.
Not surprisingly, though, the ALDF’s investigation showed this to be untrue. Within months, Animaland and its owners were charged with violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well as the Pennsylvania State Game Commission regulations that define how to humanely care for a captive animal.
But it wasn’t just the small cages and lack of exercise or stimulation that led to ALDF’s victory. Looking back at Animaland’s history, the ALDF found that the zoo had over 60 violations from USDA inspections in the past few years.
In fact, Animaland had failed to meet the most minimal of requirements for proper care, as defined by the Animal Welfare Act. Even the infrastructure of the zoo itself was in such decline that the lawsuit declared it a public safety hazard, as there was a risk of animals escaping.
In addition to this, the lawsuit focused on the zoo’s endangered species: Bear and the Siberian tiger, Baby. “Laws that protect endangered species apply to every member of that species,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the ADLF.
“Whether in the wild or captivity, the law remains the same,” said Wells. “The animals at Animaland are suffering and intervention is required.”
For evidence in the lawsuit, ALDF relied on photos, firsthand accounts from visitors and expert analysis. The testimonies indicated that all of the animals kept in these conditions were suffering both physically and psychologically.
Naturally, Bear was meant to be a social and active wolf and suffered, perhaps more than the rest, by being alone. But little did he know that his life was about to change forever.
In light of the lawsuit, Animaland closed its doors for good in August 2016. Thankfully, too, the owners worked with officials to ensure that all of the zoo’s animals were relocated to new homes.
So when it was time for Bear to leave, the cage that his rescuers placed him inside would become his last. That’s because he rode to his new home at the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. Now he “can finally experience the companionship of other wolves and feel the earth beneath his paws,” according to an ALDF press release.
In fact, all the animals found new homes that catered specifically to their needs. For instance, Baby the tiger, the monkeys, the bobcat and the fox were all moved to a wildlife rescue facility in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the black bears Shawn and Sandy were moved by Lions Tigers & Bears to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in San Antonio, Texas.
“The animals at Animaland were suffering, and the zoo was breaking the law,” said Wells. “We are happy to have helped these long-suffering animals find habitats that meet their needs as wild animals, and we are relieved that they are finally free from their cramped and dilapidated quarters at Animaland.”
As for Bear, he can now finally roam and socialize with his wolf brethren. He is safe, well cared for and will live the rest of his life cage-free.