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Feds confiscate injured brown bear from closed Michigan roadside zoo

Stock image of a brown bear.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confiscated a brown bear from a former roadside zoo in Tawas City, MI, because the animal was suffering without veterinary care, according to the USDA Confiscation Notice.

The bear was confiscated from James Svoboda, owner of the now-closed Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park, commonly called the Tawas Zoo.

In 2014, a lion bit off part of a visitor’s finger at the Tawas Zoo and the facility was facing a lawsuit.

A lion in an enclosure at the Tawas Zoo. Photo from Kay Tabor/Facebook.

In response to the lawsuit, Svoboda closed Tawas Zoo to the public but kept the animals on the rural property where he and his wife also live.

From 2014-2019, the facility was cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act 13 times.

In 2020, USDA inspections were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 19, 2021, USDA Animal Care Inspector Carrie Bongard visited the property and cited Svoboda with three non-critical violations and three direct violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

According to the USDA inspection report, a brown bear had a 4-5” ulcerated red wound above its eye that had been present since October 2020. Svoboda was treating the bear’s wound with a livestock wound spray called Blu-Kote.

“There has been no veterinarian at the facility to properly diagnose and recommend treatment for this bear,” the USDA report said. “The attending veterinarian for this facility retired one-and-a-half years ago.”

The shelter for the bears at the facility was in disrepair with boards that had rotted away at the bottom and one entire side of the shelter had been torn down by the bears, according to the USDA report.

The inspector noted an adult bobcat was obese with matted hair on its neck and back. The bobcat was walking “very slowly, and gently,” according to the report.

Svoboda said the sheltered part of the enclosure for the lion at the facility had not been cleaned since last fall and Inspector Bongard noted that it was filled with feces, hair and excess food waste with mold. The bobcat enclosure also contained excessive feces and both enclosures had a very strong odor, according to the report.

The USDA gave Svoboda until July 26 to correct the less serious violations but ordered him to obtain veterinary care for the injured bear by the end of the following business day. On July 21, the USDA provided Svoboda with notice that if he did not comply with their order to obtain veterinary treatment for the bear by 1:00 p.m. July 23, they would confiscate the animal.

When he did not comply, the USDA confiscated the bear from Svoboda, citing his “failure to provide the adequate and necessary care to the animals,” according to the USDA Confiscation Notice.

One black bear, one lion, one bobcat and three red foxes remain at the facility.

Michigan law requires any person who possesses exotic animals to possess and maintain a USDA Class C license.

As of August 5, Svoboda’s USDA Class C license has been listed as “Cancelled.”


July 2021 USDA Inspection report:

PST_Inspection_Report_JAMES SVOBODA (1)
Download PDF • 57KB

Official USDA Confiscation Notice:

Download PDF • 1.08MB


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