Ben the bear, who lived for six years in a 12 x 22-foot cage near Fayetteville before becoming the subject of a lawsuit garnering national publicity, is featured in tomorrow night's episode of "Animal Intervention" on the Nat Geo Wild channel.
In the episode, which airs at 9 p.m., the show's star Alison Eastwood and actor-activist Billy McNamara visit the Jambbas Ranch in Cedar Creek and meet with Ben's owner James Bass, who at the time of filming had been under fire over Ben's living conditions.
In the episode, McNamara explains to Bass that in the wild, bears walk approximately 20 miles each day. Ben, a grizzly-black bear mix who never left his cage, slept on a concrete floor and was fed dog food, bread and hot dogs once per day. In the wild, bears forage and eat constantly. Eastwood and McNamara both put pressure on Bass to either hand over Ben or improve his living quarters.
We're not sure how the episode ends, but here's some background on Ben's plight (and -- spoiler alert -- an update on what happened to him): Ben lived at Jambbas Ranch Tours, a working ranch in Cedar Creek that also served as a sort of roadside zoo. Some visitors to the ranch objected to Ben's living conditions, and in May 2011, their protests attracted the attention of Bob Barker, former host of "The Price is Right" and a well-known animal activist.
Barker wrote a letter to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners complaining about Ben's situation at the ranch. Animal experts said there was evidence that the bear, who constantly paced in his cage and bit into the fence, was bored and under stress in his small, unnatural environment. Two Cumberland County residents joined with PETA to try to help the bear, citing a county ordiance that prohibited owning exotic animals. But commissioners voted to allow the ranch an exemption.
The residents, along with Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA, then filed a lawsuit against Jambbas and the USDA, who renewed the ranch's Animal Welfare Act (AWA) license despite AWA violations. The groups also complained about other animals at the zoo, many of whom were also kept in cages with concrete floors. (The Fayetteville Observer reported in August that the USDA was investigating those cases.)
In early August of 2012, the plaintifs won a temporary injunction, and Ben, who is declawed, was shipped to a Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctary in San Andreas, California.
Two weeks after Ben arrived in California, the two sides in the lawsuit agreed that Ben should stay at the PAWS sanctuary for the rest of his life. Ben is 11 years old and could live another 20 years. In his new home, Ben enjoys a two-acre natural habitat that includes a large straw nest under oak trees and a special pool for playing and bathing.
"Animal Intervention" airs Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on Nat Geo Wild. That episode also features the story of an Arkansas woman who is struggling to take care of 29 rescued tigers.
Nat Geo Wild can be found on channels 254 and 1254 on Time Warner Cable; 283 and 1283 on DirecTV; 190 on Dish; and 266 on AT&T U-verse.
Photos courtesy of Nat Geo Wild and PETA.
You can watch a video below chronicling Ben's journey from Fayetteville to San Andreas, including his first bath.