HICKS COLUMN: The bear facts about Memphis, aka BooBoo
Memphis is not your average bear.
He's not even really “Memphis,” according to his family.
The 450-pound black bear now residing at Charles Towne Landing made headlines this week for the simple fact that he spent most of the past decade living at a private Lowcountry residence.
Yes, he was a pet.
A big pet — one of a dozen or so privately owned bears in South Carolina.
Memphis (or BooBoo, as his former family calls him) was brought to the state park by Animal Rescue and Relief, a nonprofit group that is fighting for tougher state laws against owning exotic pets.
News of the bear's “rescue” upset BooBoo's family, which wishes to remain anonymous because of the embarrassment. The very idea of a “rescue” suggests he was mistreated.
And they say he wasn't.
Yes, BooBoo lived in a fenced area with a shelter and roamed the yard on a chain — since most folks frown on bears wandering into their yards.
But the family points out that they had a state permit to own BooBoo and were never cited for mistreating him.
“We loved that bear,” they said Tuesday.
Born in captivity
BooBoo came to live in Cottageville through an exotic-animal auction.
He was born in captivity and needed a home. Otherwise he might have ended up in a circus or some roadside zoo. So the family took him in.
“We didn't go looking for a bear,” the family says.
The bear lived in Cottageville for more than eight years. The family had a Department of Natural Resources permit to own him, and DNR officers checked on him every year.
It wasn't any secret there was a bear living down the street.
Sometimes neighbors complained, mainly the few times BooBoo went on walkabout. He was usually lured home — since you don't actually pick up a bear — by waving a jar of grape jelly in front of his nose.
“He was a very happy and tame bear,” the family says.
Colleton County officials say there were occasional complaints about animals getting off the family's property, but no problems with the family's actual treatment of animals.
Of course, animal-rights activist feel differently.
The bear in the room
If you talk to folks at Animal Rescue and Relief, they will tell you the issue is not whether BooBoo was mistreated (they don't claim he was) but whether folks ought to be allowed to keep such unorthodox pets.
That is a good point. Far too many people take on animals they can't care for, and the next thing you know, there are 17-foot snakes in the Everglades. The state needs better regulation.
BooBoo is an odd case. Born in captivity, he had little chance of surviving in the wild.
After all, it's hard to find Smucker's in the forest.
So this family took him in, cared for him and eventually gave him up voluntarily.
Today BooBoo is a celebrity, and his former family and the animal rights groups who “rescued” him are now at odds over a pretty serious animal-rights debate.
And that's too bad, because both sides have the bear's best interests at heart.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.