Ann Arbor, Mich. – After photos surfaced of University of Michigan (UM) football players petting, feeding, and posing with a bear cub at Oswald’s Bear Ranch—a notorious roadside zoo in the Upper Peninsula that tears baby bears away from their mothers and charges people to have their photo taken with them—PETA sent a letter today to UM Head Football Coach Jim Harbaugh, who appears in photos with Oswald’s owner, alerting him to the facility’s history of bear cub deaths and calling on him to pledge never to bring the Wolverines to another roadside zoo.
PETA notes that even though nearly 80% of the bears Oswald’s has acquired in the last 25 years were bred in captivity and then taken from their mothers to be exploited for photo ops, the roadside zoo regularly misleads the public by marketing itself as a rescue facility. Seventeen cubs 2 years old or younger have died on Oswald’s watch, including two who died last year when they were only a few months old and another who was killed by police in 2019 after escaping from the facility, which was ordered to pay a $2,400 civil penalty to settle a federal complaint that its owners had lied about the circumstances surrounding the cub’s death. According to Michigan law, this penalty means that Oswald’s can’t offer cub petting until at least 2026—but it continues to do so.
“Kind Michigan football fans will be horrified to hear that their team visited Oswald’s Bear Ranch, which tears bear families apart and locks cubs up in a concrete prison,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Welfare Debbie Metzler. “PETA is calling on Coach Harbaugh to keep the Wolverines away from roadside zoos and to join us in calling for the bears at Oswald’s to be transferred to reputable sanctuaries.”
A new video narrated by Alec Baldwin exposes the suffering behind cub-petting “encounters,” targeting Oswald’s and other roadside zoos. Once bears become too big to be handled, Oswald’s moves them to enclosures in which they’ve exhibited behavior that signals mental distress in bears—such as head-tossing and pacing back and forth—as has been captured on video. Oswald’s has also been cited for allowing a cub to injure a guest and for endangering children by permitting them to hand-feed cubs.
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.