Two senior black bears named Tibor and Sammi have had a startling and dramatic change in fortune – for the better. They had passed their entire lives in a traveling bear show, spending days on end in cages and captive settings, shuttled from city to city. Now they finally have a chance to put their paws up at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas – one of the nation’s largest animal sanctuaries and part of the HSUS family of animal care centers.
The two have never had a chance to do what bears do in the wild: forage or fish, hunt or swim, climb trees or build a den, seek out mates or raise a family. Instead, they were put on display to perform tricks for patrons of the shows.
We welcomed the bears at Black Beauty on January 8th, after their owner chose to retire them there. Tibor, who is nearly 26 years old, and Sammi, who recently turned 19, are now in our equivalent of a bear retirement home, cohabitating in their one-acre, naturally wooded home at the ranch. It’s not the wild – because they couldn’t survive at this stage of their lives without human assistance and care – but it’s the next best thing for them.
Our team will pay special attention to geriatric conditions like arthritis, obesity, and mobility issues after so many years of punishing travel and confinement. Life expectancy in captivity for black bears is between 25 and 30 years, so they’re truly senior citizens. But it’s our goal to make sure every day is better than the last and that they have the time of their lives at this extraordinary sanctuary.
The bears have adapted well to their new environment during these last two weeks, according to Noelle Almrud, director of the Black Beauty Ranch. They spend most of their days sleeping in the sun in their wooded habitat, which is just an acre, but might as well seem like a hundred acres to them given how they’d lived for the past two decades. At night, they bed down in their warm, insulated dens, padded thick with hay. They eat a nutritious diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and a special omnivore biscuit, specifically developed for bears.
“The bears are calm but curious,” Noelle told me. “Our staff spent the weeks leading up to their arrival building sturdy wooden platforms for them to climb and explore. They also used donated firehose to construct strong, comfy hammocks in case the bears would enjoy a relaxing nap off of the ground.”
We host more than 800 animals at the 1,400-acre Black Beauty Ranch, established in 1979 by legendary author and animal advocate Cleveland Amory, who founded and led The Fund for Animals with Marian Probst. The stories and experiences of the animals at Black Beauty bear witness to the suffering and cruelty tied to animal exploitation in our society: they were discarded from circuses, rescued from trucks leaving a factory farm, pulled off the kill floor of a horse slaughter facility, rerouted from canned hunting facilities, and rescued from the fur trade or from animal research laboratories.
When you visit Black Beauty, and other sanctuaries of this kind, you not only experience the joy of seeing these survivors getting the best possible treatment as they live out their lives, you also learn the backstory of animals who are innocent victims of greed and callousness. Most importantly, though, you get a front-row seat for the expression of the best of humanity. In every story of woe, there is also a story of hope and help. And in each story is the promise of what we can do on a broader scale to make the world a safer place for all animals. We need more such sanctuaries, and we need to support them as much as we can in the future.
Tibor and Sammi won’t have eternity at Black Beauty. But they will have someone watching their backs every day.
P.S. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about our black bear patient #4319, nicknamed Eve, at our Wildlife Care Center in Ramona, California. Eve had lost all of her fur to mange, and was bald. It will take months for her fur to return, but we are already seeing the return of her personality and bear behaviors. She loves to collect her enrichment items to make her sleeping nest in her igloo each day. She likes to pick a piece of fruit or other item from her meal and take it back to her den to eat one at a time.