Friday, February 8, 2013

Of Bear Pits and Sadness

The other day, Kristin mentioned wanting to go outlet shopping in Pigeon Forge today and asked if I wanted to go, so I took the day off from work and made one request:

"Can we stop at the Three Bears General Store and see the bear pit? I'll pay for your ticket."

"OK." Pause. "What's a bear pit?"

Not a gay bar full of hair chubby guys, surprisingly enough, although I would be willing to bet ten American dollars that somewhere there is such a bar with that exact name.

Back to the bear pit, though, a few years ago I wondered why it was called the Three Bears General Store but only had two bears out front:

Jesus Saves

A little research revealed that the third bear (and four of his friends) was inside the gift shop, in the live bear habitat:

Three Bears General Store

I've wanted to see it ever since, but now I wish I hadn't. I've seen things in Pigeon Forge that I jokingly wish that I hadn't seen, like the anatomically correct pegasus with dragon wings' horse penis:


but this is the first time I really, truly wish that I didn't know something even existed.

Jesus saves, but he doesn't save bears.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though, and need to backtrack to our arrival. We walked through the entire two story gift extravaganza, which was full of candy, souvenirs, an arcade, and Rebel flag merchandise, and then spotted the bear habitat:

door to bear habitat

I eagerly bought our tickets, which are good for the whole day, and paid a little extra for a cup of "bear food" to feed to the bears, which should have been our first indication of a problem:

(alleged) bear food

I doubt bears in the wild survive on broken dog biscuits and wedged apples.

Anyway, Kristin carried our food, I readied the camera, and we flung open the door to the bear habitat observation area. The overwhelming sense of despair was immediate and palpable. As Kristin put it later in the car, "It was like we were om one of those Sarah McLachlan commercials, but the commercial was about bears!" Maybe the problem was Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" blasting over the speakers, or maybe it was the immediate realization that the bear habitat is a cinderblock cave system in the middle of a parking lot, hastily tacked on to the back of the building:

bear habitat (1)

bear habitat (2)

but our first steps onto the bear habitat observation area filled us with sadness which only got worse when we saw the bears:

three of the bears

A fourth bear was down below those three, near some balls, the only visible source of stimulation or activity for the bears in the whole habitat:

bear habitat (3)

and the last bear was down in the bottom in a corner, rubbing its head back and forth against the stone wall of the habitat, clearly driven insane by captivity.

One of the bears lifted his head and slowly blinked at us, so I prompted Kristin to throw him some food but please don't hit him with it. She did, and the bear slowly trundled over to where the apple piece landed. Encouraged, we threw them all of our cup of food from the top level before realizing that there are pipes on the bottom level where you can drop the food much closer to them:

feeding tube

When we got down that close, we discovered that one bear had been pelted with food by previous visitors and now had a piece of apple stuck in his fur:

eating bear

but we could do nothing to help him.

After a few moments of watching the bears:

Kristin stares at bears

bear (1)

bear (2)

bears together

we headed back upstairs to the door, where we noticed that now that we were no longer throwing food the bears had all moved back to the exact same original positions in the habitat and were sitting, presumably waiting for the next group of visitors to throw dog biscuits and apples at them, and this was the last straw for me.

"I feel so bad that we spent money on this. Not because we got ripped off, but because I feel bad for supporting this."

Kristin agreed.

I'm not saying the bears are mistreated. They seem well fed (I assume that they are eating something besides what is thrown at them by visitors), but the overall feeling was despair, and it was immediate. We both felt it as soon as we stepped onto the observation deck, and it stuck with us for the next several hours. I'm not sure why this was sadder than seeing bears at the zoo, but there was something terribly depressing about this whole experience.

After many years of tacky mini golf stores, gift shoppes of all shapes and sizes, laser arcades, dinosaur boat rides, Titanic museums, old timey photos, wedding chapels, airbrushing stands, go-cart tracks, indoor skydiving, and pancake houses, Pigeon Forge has finally produced something that horrified even me.


JMBower said...

Sadly, this is actually a nicer habitat than I expected. I'm not a big fan of keeping animals captive for entertainment...I think zoos serve a valid purpose, but this sort of thing doesn't. That being said, and without getting a full look at it, this is probably pretty similar to what a zoo might have. Though it seems like it might be a bit small for that many bears. I've seen worse though...remember the zoo at Thompson Park?

andy said...

I'm glad to read others have seen this disgraceful place but sad to know it still exists. I went to pigeon forge with a friend to camp for a week and stopped in pigeon forge to get supplies...we too were lured in by the live bear sign..keep in mind this was back in the mid 90's...this place looked nothing like your pictures...we opted not to buy food to throw...and when we got into to see them I felt like throwing was literally a pit back then..4 concrete walls and a plastic water tub...I couldn't believe others were letting their children pelt then with food and the bears just laid there...morbidly obese and hoping for death...we told the employee on our way out that it was repulsive and we hoped they get shut down..he said don't bother coming was even harder to get out into the mountains and see the beauty of the area and know these poor animals would never see it again.

Marcheline said...

You're right, Joel. That sucks. It sucks for the bears, and it sucks the joy right out of anyone who has a heart.