The story of Ben, Canada’s loneliest bear


Ben, the American black bear, spent more than 25 years in a tiny cage at a roadside zoo in Ontario. His tragic story serves as a reminder of the importance of banning roadside zoos once and for all.

Ben was born a wild bear. Sadly, he was found orphaned and fell into the hands of the Ontario government, who in turn placed him at a roadside zoo facility. While the facility claimed to be a refuge for orphaned wildlife, it was far from a genuine sanctuary.  

Ben never got to grow up experiencing the vastness of the wilderness, the freedom to roam through dense forests, or the thrill of catching a fish in a rushing river. Instead, he was raised in a cage where he could only walk about 8 steps in each direction and was used as an attraction for paying guests.  

For over two decades, his spirit was crushed, and his body weakened by the relentless monotony of his unnatural surroundings. 

An American black bear in a tiny roadside zoo cage

Ben the bear, listless and inactive, in his sad enclosure. (Photo: Michèle Hamers / Zoocheck)

Over time, Ben's once majestic black fur turned dull and patchy, a reflection of his inner suffering and typically an indication of dehydration, malnutrition, or other health problems. His eyes, once filled with life and curiosity, now held a perpetual sadness. The confines of his cage prevented him from engaging in any natural behaviours like foraging and climbing, leaving him listless and devoid of purpose.  

The cage offered little protection from the scorching heat of summer or the biting cold of winter. The few meager objects placed within the cage failed to replicate the complexity of his natural habitat, leaving him deprived of any mental stimulation. Ben was often seen just lying around or pacing – stereotypic behaviours that animals develop to cope with psychological stress.

Ben pacing, a stereotypic behaviour indicative of psychological stress. (Video: Michèle Hamers / Zoocheck) 

As the years passed, Ben's health deteriorated further. His physical condition declined, his spirit broken by the unending cycle of confinement and deprivation. Ben became lethargic, a state called "learned helplessness”, which is something animals develop when they are kept in a horrid situation for a long time. The animal gives up trying to improve their own condition. 

A grassroots lobbying effort fought hard to help the animals at this roadside zoo, and in 2018, the city passed a ban on zoos. Sadly, this facility was allowed to keep their current animals, and Ben remained trapped in his cage.  

Not long after, due to his declining health, Ben was euthanized. 

Ben's story and its tragic ending, serves as a somber reminder of the urgent need to put an end to these cruel roadside zoos once and for all. Without strong legal protections and public support, countless animals will continue to endure lives of captivity. 

Let Ben's story inspire us to unite in our efforts, amplify the call for legal reforms, and advocate for the closure of roadside zoos across Canada. By learning from his suffering, we can work together towards a future where no wild animal is kept in horrid conditions. 

Help bears like Ben. Put an end to roadside zoos. 

There are over one thousand wild animals being held captive in degrading conditions across Ontario. Animals just like Ben are languishing in these roadside zoos for the entertainment of tourists.  

Join us and speak out for the captive wild animals in Ontario. Tell Ontario’s Solicitor General that Canadians don't support this cruelty. 

Act now

Support the care of formerly abused bears 

There are 115 bears just like Ben now living a peaceful life at Libearty Sanctuary. Many of them were kept in tiny cages as tourist attractions, entertaining people for profit, exactly like Ben.  

Thanks to the support of animal lovers like you, they get a second chance at a life. They now get to climb trees, rest in the shade, and splash around in freshwater pools. They get to display their natural behaviours and let their individual personalities shine. 

Give now

Further reading: 

Two lions sit on a structure in a small enclosure in a roadside zoo in Ontario.
A monkey alone at a roadside zoo

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