After 20 years of living in a small, rusted cage and 30 years total in captivity, Fifi the bear was released to The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Before being rescued by PETA and the sanctuary in July of 2015, Fifi appeared to be suffering from serious arthritis and food deprivation. She was skinny, dirty, and walked like she was in pain. Thanks to the organizations' care, Fifi now has a full coat of fur and is getting stronger every day.
Unfortunately, her story is one of many. Britanny Peet, PETA's deputy director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, told A Plus that there are more than 1,000 bears in U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed facilities that are confined to concrete pits and cages and denied anything that's close to resembling a natural habitat.
"They should live in reputable sanctuaries where the conditions are as much like they would live in the wild as possible," Peet told A Plus. "Bears in the wild have home ranges of up to 100 miles and are active for 18 hours a day, their bodies are meant to be very active."
Fifi's story is also not unique in how it began. Typically, bears are left in these cages once they are no longer cubs and suitable for petting or performance. Most are initially brought in as cubs to perform tricks at roadside zoos, or to be shown off to children, but as they grow, their usefulness wanes.
"PETA submitted a petition for rule making to the USDA calling for a ban on confining bears to concrete pits and requiring bears be held in large naturalistic enclosures," Peet said.
The Department of Agriculture responded to the petition a little over a month ago and has said it will be issuing policy statements and re-training USDA inspectors on how to adequately identify exotic animal owners who are not complying with the Animal Welfare Act. The department believes that it doesn't need to enact new requirements, just enforce the ones that are already there more stringently.
It'd be a great help if it happens, since PETA can't save all the bears on its own. The animal rights organization has rescued 41 bears from these tiny cages in the past three years, but there is a lot of work to be done.
"Fifi's transformation and the huge impact that adequate conditions have in the video speak for itself," Peet said.