Toward the end of a mostly uneventful Smyrna City Council meeting Monday night, local resident Susan Bentley rose to speak about an issue regarding entertainment at the city’s upcoming Spring Jonquil Festival. Bentley opposes the presence of the Grizzly Experience, a traveling exhibit featuring Alaskan grizzly bears — and she apparently isn’t the only one.
“I was shocked when I saw that they’re going to have a grizzly exhibit,” said Bentley, who noted that the bears aren’t naturally found in Georgia. “I always thought Smyrna was a very forward-looking city. This is not that. We are in a time where people are celebrating elephants being retired at the Ringling Bros. Circus and chimpanzees being retired from research labs. We’re going to have a small enclosure with three magnificent animals that have no hope of living the meaningful life that they’re supposed to live.”
The annual Spring Jonquil Festival will be held the weekend of April 28 and 29 in downtown Smyrna and is generally one of the largest events of the year in the city. The Grizzly Experience is one of several draws, including Robocars, a book sale, crawfish boil and food and arts vendors.
The Grizzly Experience is touted as an “educational demonstration” on the city’s website, with three bears named Tonk, Yogi and Maggie interacting with their handler to demonstrate “the amazing bond between bear and man.” Patrons will also learn about how bears are trained for use in movies.
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon acknowledged the city had received other calls and inquiries over the issue, and read aloud a statement from the Grizzly Experience organizers.
“All of the bears are rescued from facilities that either did not have room for them or could no longer care for them,” he said. “They also work with state agencies in an effort to help rehabilitate and rescue wild bears that became a nuisance.”
After saying the bears travel in a custom-built, air-conditioned trailer inspected and approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Bacon joked that the bears travel “better than I do” before confirming that the bears will remain part of the festival as planned.
“These animals are not going to be mistreated,” Bacon said. “The folks that rehabilitate them have had to go through several state agencies to get accreditation. They’re already planning on being here and we’ve already paid for them I’m sure.”