JAMESTOWN — When he is not shuffling around his enclosure, Bosco the Bear is usually sunbathing or eagerly sitting on his hind legs as visitors say “hello” or toss him food. But now the 24-year-old bear is the subject of an animal rights protest — one his keepers say is unfounded.

The resident of Pymatuning Deer Park in Jamestown is the spotlight following recent demands by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which is invoking the name of actor and Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton, that Bosco, whom the agency describes as a “long-suffering and arthritic bear,” be released to an animal sanctuary.

Keaton even appeared in a video interview with PETA and spoke against using bears for photo-ops, as well as calling for Bosco’s release.

However, park owner Rachelle Sankey said she has not been contacted regarding Bosco or noticed Keaton visiting the park’s facilities.

“Bosco’s the oldest animal we have on exhibit here, and he’s honestly one of the favorite animals among our return customers,” Sankey said.

The interior enclosure for Bosco, described by PETA as a “barren concrete pit” in the release, features a wooden platform, rocks, dirt and wood chips to provide natural ground. While there is a sloped concrete area near the front of the enclosure, an outdoor enclosure was also added that Bosco can enter or exit as he pleases, featuring water, logs and more natural ground, Sankey said.

But these issues are “too little, too late,” PETA Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Debbie Metzler said.

“All Bosco is able to do is look at the walls and beg for pitiful scraps of food,” Metzler said.

The zoo is inspected and certified by three different agencies — the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture. Those inspectors also make unannounced visits to the zoo multiple times a year, Sankey said.

Although she has not attended Pymatuning State Park herself and PETA does not necessarily have inspectors to send to locations, Metzler said that video footage taken of Bosco shows signs of arthritis.

In the wild, the average black bear lives to be about 10 to 12 years old depending on factors such as predators or hunters, Sankey said. Bosco is 24 years old and is not currently taking any medications, nor is he being treated for arthritis, she added.

“When he came out of hibernation, even though he’s 24, he had a good coat, he was bright eyed, and these are all things we look for because of his age, but he doesn’t show signs of joint pain or anything,” Sankey said.

None of the three inspecting agencies or the zoo’s veterinary staff have found Bosco to be suffering from arthritis. However, Metzler said the USDA’s enforcement has “decreased over the past few years.”

Instead of living out his life in an enclosure, Metzler said Bosco should be transferred to a sanctuary where the bear could roam and engage in species-specific activities with minimum human care without having to “beg for food.”

However, Sankey said sedating Bosco for a transfer to a different facility could stop the bear’s heart. While Metzler argued that bears can sometimes be trained for such a transfer, moving Bosco would also deprive him of an important part of his enrichment — the interaction with people, Sankey said.

“We’ve even discussed moving him (Bosco) from an enclosure to a wooded area, but our staff and inspectors urged us not to because he gets a lot of enrichment from interacting with the public,” Sankey said.

Bosco first came to Pymatuning Deer Park in Jamestown in 1995 as a 4-month-old cub, and has been been raised by humans since he was born in captivity.

While guests can toss Bosco nuggets of Mazuri primate food, the zoo staff feeds Bosco, as well as the other animals, their main meal after hours, which consists of Mazuri bear food for Boscso. A salad of fruits and vegetables is also provided, Sankey said.

“We monitor him closely because of his age, and he still loves to interact with people,” she said.

Requests to talk to Keaton about his involvement in Bosco’s case have been made. However, an interview has not yet been scheduled.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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