Rescued bear now living at Charles Towne Landing
Memphis grew up in the backyard of a Lowcountry residence, chained to a tree or pacing back and forth in a small dog trot.
Which is no way to live if you’re a 450-pound black bear.
Based on a tip, the nonprofit Animal Rescue & Relief Inc. sprang Memphis from his former home earlier this year.
“This is more common than people realize,” said Michelle Reid, director of Animal Rescue & Relief. “This is not OK.”
But it is legal.
The nonprofit group is trying to get South Carolina to pass a law banning ownership of exotic animals. This is the only state where keeping bears and other wild animals, even cobras, is legal.
In fact, South Carolina is the only state where “bear baiting” is accepted. That’s the practice of bear owners allowing hunters to have their dogs practice tracking on bears, many of which have had their claws and teeth filed down. There’s no proof Memphis was used for baiting, however.
The biggest problem here is the lack of regulation on this sort of practice, Reid said.
“As it stands now, there are lots of wild or exotic animals in our state that people are keeping as pets that just shouldn’t be,” Reid said. “And oftentimes they are not being kept in proper habitats, enclosures or conditions.”
Earlier this year, state Sen. David Thomas introduced legislation to control the ownership of exotic animals and reptiles, but the General Assembly never acted on it. Animal Rescue & Relief is lobbying lawmakers to get new legislation going in the next session.
Reid said her organization had to use federal laws to get Memphis out of the place he called home for nearly a decade. The owners, who are not being identified because of ongoing case work, did not protest the removal.
“It got to the point where the owners knew they had to do something,” Reid said.
The group was able to get Memphis moved permanently to Charles Towne Landing, where he is now one of two black bears living in a 2-acre enclosure.
When Memphis was turned loose in his new home, Reid said, “He didn’t know what to do.”
Rob Powell, park manager at Charles Towne Landing, said both of the state park’s black bears are rescues. Powell said they took on Memphis without knowing much about his background, other than he had been living at a private home.
And these days, he’s out in the open for the public to see every other day — he trades out days in the public enclosure with the other bear.
And that’s how it’s going to be. Years of living in captivity make him unfit to be turned loose in the wild.
But he now has it much better than he did.
“He’s doing great,” Powell said. “Being a bear.”
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.