Bears to be featured at Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show at TRAC in Pasco

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 14, 2013 

There won't be any lions or tigers at this year's Tri-Cities Sportsmen Show, but there will be real bears.

The Great Bear Show is making its first appearance at the Pasco sportsmen show, which is Friday through Sunday at the Trade, Recreaction and Agricultural Center in Pasco.

The bear show was established in 1977 by Bob Steele, who guarantees the bears will be entertaining -- but not in a circus kind of way. He'll bring five bears, which will roam around in a large enclosure.

"During the presentation, people will receive educational information about North American bears, both in the wild and in captivity," he said. "And they'll learn how to survive in bear country when hiking or camping."

Steele keeps five bears on his 200 acre ranch in Jefferson, Texas. About 40 acres of the ranch is a sanctuary where the bears, Jacki, Andy, Cindi, Buck and Brock, all live when not traveling around the country with Steele to various trade shows.

Brothers Jacki and Andy are 23 years old. Their parents, who are no longer living, were orphaned cubs when Steele took them in. Cindi is 14 and was another orphaned cub. Cindi's youngsters are Bucky and Brock, who will turn 6 on Feb. 1.

Though Steele admits he likes to hunt deer and elk and also enjoys fishing, bear hunting has never been an option.

"I grew up in the animal business where you can get quite attached to the animals," he said.

His great grandfather trained horses and his grandfather continued the tradition but also trained buffalo and elephants. Steele's father focused his animal involvement on all sorts of exotic beasts, mostly elephants, providing animals for Disney movies and circuses, even a Rolling Stones concert, Steele said.

"But I didn't want to go the circus route," he said. "I felt a need to do something else, like teach people how to better understand wild animals through education."

Now some might wonder why Steele would set up a bear habitat that addresses the need to protect bears at a sportsmen show. But Steele jokes there's a method to his madness.

"I am dead against killing bears because it's needless," he said. "The meat is stringy and greasy, and the hides are illegal. But I'm not so foolish as to give all my opinions about that at a sportsmen's show. Instead, I like to make it fun to learn about bears and preserving their future. Besides, there are still many responsible hunters out there who understand."

People will be able to view the bears up close, but safely because they'll be in an enclosure. Most of the bears in the show were obtained after they were orphaned by hunters who shot females who had cubs, he said.

And visitors to the show might find out some facts about bears they didn't know before -- like how smart bears are, how dedicated they are to tackling a problem, and how lovable they can be, Steele said.

"I don't think there's an animal alive that can equal a bear's perseverence," he said. "They will spend all day trying to turn over a huge boulder just so they can get the one grub worm underneath it."

"State Fish and Wildlife agencies have called me many times to help find homes for orphaned cubs," Steele said. "The cubs can't survive on their own and bears are the only wild animals that can't be introduced back into the wild once they've been handled by people. They're not afraid of humans anymore once we take care of them and that's when their lives in the wild are threatened."

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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