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Salt Lake County Fair Bear Show Draws Complaints

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Wednesday was the first day of the Salt Lake County Fair. An animal rights organization has taken issue with a bear exhibit on display there.

Jeremy Beckham said his organization, the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, began receiving emails expressing concerns about the conditions of bears featured in the traveling Great Bear Show. Beckham took a colleague and went to the fair to observe the bear exhibit. He said that what he saw matched the allegations in the emails.

“My observations not only matched the complaints the Utah Animal Rights Coalition got, but they also matched the observations that federal authorities made when they cited this circus for violating the Animal Welfare Act four times within the past 18 months,” Beckham said. “The bears were endlessly pacing in their cages and it’s a sign that an animal is in mental distress, the bears had big patches of hair missing. There really was nothing whatsoever that looked humane or pleasant from the perspective of the bears about this exhibit.”

UARC filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Letters were also sent to county officials and the organizers of the fair. Beckham said that rules should be changed to prohibit wild animal acts from using county facilities. He added that federal animal treatment laws need to be strengthened.  

“There’s no question that our federal Animal Welfare Act and the enforcement of that law is incredibly weak. Congress has not strengthened or updated the Animal Welfare Act provisions dealing with circuses and exhibitors in more than 40 years,” he said. “Serial offenders get slap on the wrist after slap on the wrist. Even when they do get fined, the fines are so paltry that many of these license-holders just consider them a cost of doing business and consider the fact that complying with the law would actually be more expensive for them than just paying the fined.”

A representative from the Salt Lake County Fair did not immediately return a request for comment.