Where Can I Pet a Bear in the U.S.?

Want to feed or pet a bear? Surprisingly, there are a handful of places in the U.S. that let you do that.

Whether you want to interact with a grizzly bear, American black bear or other types of bears, there are a few places where you can do so.

The following is a list of places where you can pet or feed a bear in the U.S.:

Cherokee Bear Zoo:

Address: 1204 Tsalagi Rd, Cherokee, NC

Website: visitcherokeenc.com/itinerary-builder/poi/bear-zoo

The Cherokee Bear Zoo is a zoo in North Carolina that is home to about ten black bears, grizzly bears and cinnamon bears. The zoo also features a petting zoo.

The bears are housed in concrete bear pits which guests view from above. For an extra fee, visitors are given sliced apples, wheat bread and lettuce which they can toss down to the bear to feed them.

Some sources state that the zoo offers photo opportunities with bear cubs but it appears they no longer offer this controversial practice because it is not mentioned on the zoo’s website.

In 2014, members of the local Cherokee tribe sued the zoo for keeping the bears in housing conditions that they felt violated the Endangered Species Act.

After two years of litigation, a U.S. District Court ruled that although the conditions at the zoo could be better they do not actually violate the Endanger Species Act.

In 2017, the Fourth Circuit District Court of Appeals overturned the U.S. District Court ruling and the case has been remanded to the district court for further consideration.

The Cherokee Bear Zoo is owned by Barry and Collette Coggins,

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo:

Address: 4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Rd, Colorado Springs, CO

Website: www.cmzoo.org

Established in 1926, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a 146-acre zoological park in Colorado that is home to more than 750 animals such as American alligators, Asiatic black bears, grizzly bears, African elephants, kangaroos, leopards, lions and more.

The zoo offers a Grizzly Bear Encounter during which visitors can meet the park’s two grizzly bears, Emmett and Digger, and feed them by tossing food for them to catch.

The zoo also offers other types of animal encounters such as a lion encounter, tiger encounter, leopard encounter, elephant encounter, giraffe encounter, zebra encounter and more.

In 2022, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was voted the #3 Best Zoo in North America and the #2 Best Zoo Exhibit in North America for its Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit in the USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

In 2020 and 2021, the zoo placed 4th best Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoo in North America.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Bob Chastain is the president and CEO of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Emerald Coast Zoo:

Address: 5262 Deer Springs Rd, Crestview, FL

Website: www.emeraldcoastzoo.com

Originally established as the Sasquatch Zoo over 30 years ago, the Emerald Coast Zoo is a 10-acre family-owned zoo in Florida that features more than 100 exotic animals such as monkeys, tigers, bears, kangaroos, lions, zebras and more.

The zoo offers a Love a Bear encounter during which guests can feed a black bear some honey while they learn about the bear’s life and habitat.

In addition to the bear encounter, the zoo also gives visitors the opportunity to feed a giraffe, pet a sloth, meet a kangaroo and assist a zoo keeper in training a lion.

The Emerald Coast Zoo is owned by Rick de Ridder and his family who purchased the zoo in 2017.

Oswald’s Bear Ranch:

Address: 13814 Co Rd 407, Newberry, MI

Website: www.oswaldsbearranch.com

Established in 1997, Oswald’s Bear Ranch is a 240-acre bear rescue facility in Michigan that is home to more than 40 rescued black bears.

The ranch offers a bear cub photo opportunity during which guests can pet and touch a bear cub and have their photo taken with the cub.

Although the practice of cub petting is technically legal, it is considered unethical by some animal activists who say the cubs should be with their mothers, not with humans.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a complaint against Oswald’s Bear Ranch citing multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act due to inadequate diet and inadequate housing for the animals.

The officials stated that the inadequate housing allowed for two bears to escape in 2019 which ended with one of the bears being shot and killed by a local law enforcement officer.

The ranch was order to pay a civil fine of $2,500 as a result of the 2019 incident.

Oswald’s Bear Ranch is owned by husband and wife team Dean and Jewel Oswald.

Caldwell Zoo:

Address: 2203 Martin Luther King Blvd. Tyler, Texas

Website: caldwellzoo.org

Established in 1953, the Caldwell Zoo is a 85-acre zoo in Texas that features animals from around the world.

The Caldwell Zoo offers a black bear encounter during which guests can meet a black bear and possibly feed the bears.

The black bear encounter is a 15-minute encounter during which a group of up to four people meet Timber and Tyler, the zoo’s resident black bears, through the fence of their enclosure and may even be allowed to feed the bears a snack.

In addition to the black bear encounter, the zoo also offers a penguin encounter, giraffe feeding and a wild bird walkabout.

The Caldwell Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Caldwell Zoo was founded by D.K. Caldwell and is still owned and operated by the Caldwell family.

Yellowstone Bear World:

Address: 6010 S 4300 W, Rexburg, ID

Website: yellowstonebearworld.com

Established in 1998, Yellowstone Bear World is a drive-thru wildlife park in Idaho that features eight different species of animals native to the Yellowstone area.

The species of animals on display at the park are American black bear, grizzly bear, mountain goat, Rocky Mountain elk, bison, moose, mule deer and white-tailed deer.

The park offers a bottle feeding experience during which guests can bottle feed bear cubs. Guests are allowed to pet the bear cubs as they bottle feed them and also have their photo taken with the bear cub.

Yellowstone Bear World is the only wildlife park in the U.S. that allows guests to bottle feed bear cubs.

Although the practice of cub petting and feeding cubs is technically legal, it is considered unethical by some animal activists who say the cubs should be with their mothers, not with humans.

Bear cubs in the wild stay with their mothers for up two years and during this time the mother bear will not breed.

The park’s website states that the bear cubs at the park remain with their mothers until they are eight weeks old and then are removed for their safety because male bears are known to kill bear cubs due to the fact that female bears will not mate if they have cubs.

Yellowstone Bear World was founded by Michael Ferguson and is currently owned and operated by his son Courtney Ferguson.

Where to meet bears in the U.S.

Sources:
FAQs.” Yellowstone Bear World, yellowstonebearworld.com/about-ybw/faqs
Bottle Feeding.” Yellowstone Bear World, yellowstonebearworld.com/experiences/bottle-feeding
Black Bear Encounter.” Caldwell Zoo, caldwellzoo.org/bear-encounter/
Nolan, Emma. “Alec Baldwin Speaks Out Against ‘Sleazy’ Bear Cub Petting For PETA.” Newsweek, 8 July. 2022, newsweek.com/alec-baldwin-peta-bear-cub-petting-video-1722914
Davis, Dillon. “Circuit Court Sides with Tribal Elders in Cherokee Bear Zoo Case.” Citizen Times, 15 Aug. 2017, citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2017/08/15/circuit-court-sides-tribal-elders-cherokee-bear-zoo-case/568291001/
Kays, Holly. “Cherokee Bear Zoo Survives Lawsuit.” Smoky Mountain News, 13 April. 2016, smokymountainnews.com/archives/item/17458-cherokee-bear-zoo-survives-lawsuit
Pietila, Alissa. “UPDATE: Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry responds to USDA complaint.” Upper Michigan’s Source, 13 Oct. 2021, uppermichiganssource.com/2021/10/13/usda-files-complaint-against-oswalds-bear-ranch-newberry/
Oswald’s Bear Ranch to Pay $2,400 Fine Following Incident Leading to Death of Bear Cub.” Upper Michigan’s Source, 9 Dec. 2021, uppermichiganssource.com/2021/12/09/oswalds-bear-ranch-pay-2400-fine-following-incident-leading-death-bear-cub/
Zaniewski, Ann. “Oswald’s Bear Ranch Bear Shot During Power Outage Escape.” Detroit Free Press, 20. June 2019, freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/06/20/deputy-shoots-escaped-oswalds-bear-ranch-bear/1514509001/
Judnich, Tony. “Still ‘Big Dreams’ After 30 Years.” NWF Daily News, 29 June. 2019, nwfdailynews.com/story/news/2019/06/29/still-big-dreams-after-30-years/4780834007/
Wilde, Ashleigh. “Emerald Coast Zoo Making Improvements.” NWF Daily News, 20 Sept. 2019, nwfdailynews.com/story/news/2019/09/20/emerald-coast-zoo-working-on-improvements-asking-for-help/2687673007/
Good, Jordan. “Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Once Again in the Running for ‘Best Zoo in North America.’” KRDO, 2 May. 2022, krdo.com/news/2022/05/02/cheyenne-mountain-zoo-once-again-in-the-running-for-best-zoo-in-north-america/
Sherrod, Brian. “Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Voted #3 Best Zoo in North America.” KKTV, 3 June. 2022, kktv.com/2022/06/03/cheyenne-mountain-zoo-voted-3-best-zoo-north-america/
Feed an Animal.” Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, cmzoo.org/events-programs/custom-animal-experiences/feed-an-animal/
Evans, Erica. “The Complicated Ethics of Raising Animals in Captivity.” Deseret News, 10 Aug. 2021, deseret.com/2021/8/9/22611884/the-complicated-ethics-of-raising-animals-in-captivity-yellowstone-bear-world-idaho
Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums.” Association of Zoos and Aqariums, aza.org/current-accreditation-list

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