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PETA wants animal park shut down

USDA, Racine officials urged to take action

By Joshua Lynch

jlynch@postbulletin.com

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has sent letters to federal officials and the Racine City Council seeking the closure of BEARCAT Hollow animal park.

The letters, dated Sept. 5, urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Racine City Council members to take immediate action against the animal park for its "chronic inability" to comply with the Animal Welfare Act.

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In the letters, the group asks the USDA to revoke the license that allows BEARCAT Hollow to display animals. PETA also asks the Racine City Council to reconsider a February decision that allowed the animal park to remain open to the public.

Amy Rhodes, a specialist in the group's research and investigations department, said the letters were sent in response to a park volunteer being bitten by a monkey in August.

"Not only is keeping animals cooped up in cramped, substandard conditions inhumane, we believe it's downright dangerous," she said. "The USDA and Racine city officials would be doing animals and people a favor by shutting BEARCAT Hollow down."

In response, BEARCAT Hollow co-owner Ken Kraft called PETA a "terrorist group." Co-owner Nancy Kraft said she would not comment until she had consulted with an attorney.

Rhodes said although PETA focuses on animal protection issues, the conditions at BEARCAT Hollow have generated legitimate concerns for the safety of people in Racine, a community of 355 about 12 miles south of Rochester.

In July 2001, a 7-year-old Rochester girl was hospitalized after a Siberian tiger attacked her at BEARCAT Hollow. The attack happened inside the animal park's big-cat barn while the girl and her mother were on a guided tour of the park. The tiger, named Como, later was destroyed.

Five months after the tiger attack, a bear cub escaped from the animal park by nudging open a sliding door and going through an unpowered electric fence. The bear later damaged a nearby home's enclosed porch as the residents watched from inside.

"The number of escapes that have occurred is unusual," Rhodes said. "These are powerful and dangerous animals that could kill people."

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Rhodes said it is important that the animal park be closed and its animals removed before more escapes occur.

"The time to act is now," she said. "The city, state and federal officials shouldn't wait until a child dies, is attacked or mauled before they do something."

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