Black Forest Bear Park PHOTO: PETA
HELEN, Ga-- Just across from the fudge shop and down the street from the Welcome Center, the Back Bear Forest Park sits in the middle of downtown. One of the bears inside had two broken elbows, a fractured shoulder, and open wounds. Welcome to the tourist attraction in Helen, Georgia.
PETA and the Atlanta Humane Society convinced the owners of the park to shut down and surrender seventeen bears. PETA called the concrete enclosures "barren pits" and claims, "the government had cited BFBP for housing them in unsafe and decrepit enclosures with jagged edges and protruding bolts and in cages showing rust and corrosion. While held in these tiny enclosures, the bears had to beg tourists for pieces of apples and bread."
RELATED | Bears from Helen tourist park relocated to Colorado
Karla Slocumb with the Atlanta Humane Society told 11Alive's Julie Wolfe the bears were not confiscated, they were willingly surrendered.
"A lot of people had been pressuring this tourist attraction, if that's what you want to call it, to put them in a better place."
That better place is a 60-acre sanctuary in Colorado. The bears were transported cross country at the end of January. Slocumb says two of the cubs were renamed "Howell" and "Mansell" after the Atlanta Humane Society's two locations.
Marley, the bear with the broken elbows, underwent surgery at Colorado State University. "As long as she can heal those fractures, which may take some time, I think she'll have a pretty decent life," Veterinarian Jeremiah Easley said.
Rebecca Miceli, director of educational programs at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Kennesburg, Colorado said, "She was rescued and now will live out the rest of her life at the sanctuary which hopefully is going to be another 20 good years of, you know, living on a 20 acre habitat versus a 30 by 40 foot cement pen."
The roadside attraction with its colorfully painted walls has operated in Helen for years. Online reviews use words like "depressing" , "pit of despair", "cramped", and "distressed". Wolfe asked Slocumb the question many 11Alive viewers were asking, "What took so long?"
"Animal welfare laws are tough. Legally, were they doing something wrong? I don't know. The laws around it are very vague. It's a grey area," Slocumb said. "I think it's a combination of the times are changing. People are getting more are more aware and more vocal.Combined with, they were just ready to let it go. Whatever the reason, we're glad it happened."