Great Bear Show

In this image from the Great Bear Show website, spectators watch bears at the Northwest Sportsman's Show in Portland, Oregon, in 2006.

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An animal welfare group has sent Montana State University a letter urging it to cancel a bear exhibit at an event the university is hosting next week.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote to MSU President Waded Cruzado urging the university to cancel the appearance of the Great Bear Show next weekend. The exhibit is scheduled to be part of the Great Rockies Sport Show, an outdoors-focused convention that occurs in Bozeman, Billings, Helena and Missoula. It will run from March 31 through April 2 at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

PETA’s John Di Leonardo, a senior campaigner on animals in entertainment, wrote that the show’s exhibitor “has a disturbing history of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act and has been cited repeatedly by the USDA for improper handling of the bears he forces to perform — thereby exposing the public to great risks and the animals to harm.”

The group’s press release points to a YouTube video that it says shows a black bear scratching itself with the wires of the cage.

MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig said in an email that because the Great Bear Show is part of the sport show, MSU doesn’t have the authority to cancel that particular event.

“As with other similar public events held at the fieldhouse, the university has no direct relationship with the event or exhibit,” Ellig wrote. “The event promoter is responsible for compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and university policies.”

Bill Reier, the manager of the Great Rockies Sport Show, said they stand by the exhibit.

“It’s a family-friendly feature. It’s just fun for kids and families to come and see,” Reier said. “Bears are always well taken care of, so I don’t see the problem.”

Reier said the bear exhibit has also appeared at their Helena and Billings shows this year.

The Great Bear Show, based in Texas, is a traveling exhibit that has made appearances at fairs, sport shows and in television and movies. The show’s website says it has been in existence since 1977. A long passage on the company’s website is dedicated to disputing allegations from PETA.

It says the company “has been a leader in animal welfare long before it became a fashionable cause.”

Bob Steele, who runs The Great Bear Show, said in an email he has never been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for any violations and that he doesn’t mistreat his animals.

“My animals are my kids and I travel to educate the public about bears,” Steele said.

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Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

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