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Animal rights activists have launched an email campaign and are planning a live demonstration against the use of bear cubs at this year’s Baby Animal Days event put on by the American West Heritage Center.

The cubs, raised and handled by workers at Yellowstone Bear World in Rexburg, Idaho, have been featured at Baby Animal Days in the past, but this year the exhibit drew the attention of the international animal-rights organization PETA, which posted an “action alert” on its website inviting members and visitors to send objection letters to the Heritage Center and the event sponsor, Young Automotive Group.

So far, according to PETA, 57,799 emails have been sent.

The email campaign is being carried out in conjunction with a planned on-site protest, scheduled for 4-6 p.m. Thursday, organized by PETA and the Utah Animal Rights Coalition. In a Facebook post late last month, the coalition offered carpooling from the Wasatch Front for those wanting to attend and offered to provide signs to protestors.

The two groups’ primary objection to Yellowstone Bear World is that cubs are taken away from their mothers only a few weeks after birth and forced into encounters with humans, a species they would naturally avoid.

“Forced encounters with humans cause bear cubs to feel trapped — a constant, never-ending stressor that can suppress their immune systems and interfere with cognitive development, resulting in long-term psychological issues and, likely, physical ones as the cubs develop,” PETA states in its action alert.

“And what happens once cubs are too big to be used for photo ops? Records show that Yellowstone Bear World has dumped them with Tiger King’s notorious ‘Joe Exotic’ and shipped cubs across the country, including to one wholesaler in Illinois who’s known to send bears to slaughter when they’re no longer profitable.”

“Tiger King” was a Netflix documentary giving a glimpse into the underbelly of wild-animal collecting and exhibiting.

Yellowstone Bear World did not respond to an email from The Herald Journal on Monday seeking comment on PETA’s accusations, but a spokesperson for The American West Heritage Center noted that Bear World is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is up-to-date on its licensing.

No further comment was offered by the center.

Past animal-rights protests in Cache Valley have not always gotten the results intended. A 2015 elephant exhibit at the Cache County Fair turned out to be a popular attraction despite a petition against the event with 24,000 signees. The elephants, handled by George Carden Circus International, were back for an encore in 2016.

A decade earlier, a PETA protest outside the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on 400 North in Logan appeared to backfire when customers started arriving at the fast-food restaurant in large numbers to voice their opposition to PETA with their pocketbooks and appetites.

Although acknowledging this type of backlash does occur around the country and world, PETA spokeswoman Debbie Metzler said Monday her group is undeterred by critics.

“We’re going to be on the front lines fighting for these animals, these vulnerable bear cubs, doing what’s necessary, speaking up for them, and hopefully people will hear the correct message,” Metzler said. “And you know the times are changing. The public is generally turning away from events like this, especially after ‘Tiger King.’ They’re seeing what it’s like behind the scenes for animals that are used for photo ops.”

The bear cubs will arrive at Baby Animal Days on Wednesday and be on exhibit through Saturday. Only professional handlers from Bear World will be in contact with the animals. The event is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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