There are fates worse than death. The brown bear family has spent years in a concrete pit in North Carolina. There are no forests, caves, streams, or berries to forage. There is a lone tree for shade and scratching, and one small pool for cooling from the scorching North Carolina summers. The bears are bred and their babies are taken away to serve as models for inexpensive photo shoots with paying visitors. Their only form of enrichment is the white bread, apple slices, and ice-berg lettuce dropped by paying customers who hover 16 feet above. These bears have learned that if they keep their mouth open and act in performative ways, more food will be dropped from above. This is how the bear family will spend their entire life. This prison is just one of the seven roadside zoos in my home state of North Carolina. Here there are no laws governing the buying or keeping of exotic animals, and private owners have turned their menageries into lucrative businesses. Messages of conservation and education are absent. The roadside zoo is pure spectacle. Yet, the human visitors rarely acknowledge the souls they have paid to see. And the boredom, frustration, and despair in these creatures is ignored.
It is important to note that these images were not taken undercover, or with any kind of special access. They were made during regular business hours and taken from the perspective of any other visitor. This is important because these animal’s suffering is in plain sight, and is visible if you choose to see it. I hope that these images make us feel deeply and ask us to rethink our sense of entitlement and power in enslaving others for entertainment and profit.