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Bear Pits.

Cherokee Bear Zoo

Field review by the editors.

Cherokee, North Carolina

Are the bears in Cherokee Bear Zoo sad and crazy? Or are they contented and well-fed? Since we can't think like a bear, the verdict on their quality of life rests in the minds of each visitor. If you come expecting to see happy bears, they seem happy; if not, they're sad.

Bear Pits.

The bears -- ten in all -- are kept in cement bear pits, a relic of an old-time tourism fraternity of which this attraction may be the last practicing member. But while a similar nearby attraction, Chief Saunooke's Bear Park, was shut down in 2013 and its bears taken away, Cherokee Bear Zoo was allowed to remain open; the inspectors evidently judged its bears to be acceptably cared for and physically fit (Two tribal elders subsequently sued the Zoo for violating the Endangered Species Act in an attempt to shut it down). Each pit at Cherokee Bear Zoo has its own waterfall, and logs and toys for the bears to chew and scratch.

Bear pit attractions, for those unaware, give tourists the opportunity to stand on the parapet of a cement pit inhabited by bears. For a dollar apiece, visitors to Cherokee Bear Zoo receive trays with a sliced apple, wheat bread, and a leaf of romaine lettuce. They yell, "Hey BEAR!" and the bear usually sits up, or lies on its back wiggling its paws in the air, triggering an appreciative shower of food. There are no skinny bears at Cherokee Bear Zoo, which either is a sign of its popularity, or a side effect of sedentary pit life. And all of the visitors that we saw, mostly young couples with children, seemed to have a good time. Although if the tables were turned, and bears above were pelting human families with trays of power bars and energy drinks, the happy vs. sad debate might finally be put to rest.

Cherokee Bear Zoo

1204 Tsalagi Rd, Cherokee, NC
East edge of town. On the south side of US Hwy 19/Tsalagi Rd, at its traffic light intersection with Whitewater Drive.
$5 admission, $1 each tray of food
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Cherokee: Tourists and IndiansCherokee: Tourists and Indians, Cherokee, NC - < 1 mi.
Peter Toth Giant Indian HeadPeter Toth Giant Indian Head, Cherokee, NC - < 1 mi.
Museum of the Cherokee PeopleMuseum of the Cherokee People, Cherokee, NC - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Hillbilly Golf, Gatlinburg, TN - 20 mi.

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