LANSING (WWJ/AP) – A bill allowing visitors to roadside zoos pet, handle and take pictures with bear cubs has been signed into law by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Public Act 8, which passed the Michigan Senate with a 26-8 vote, allows the public direct contact with bear cubs up to 90 pounds and 36 weeks old. The Large Carnivore Act currently restricts contact with animals – like lions, tigers, leopards and bears – older than 20 weeks.

The law applies only to existing facilities.

A group of zoos in Michigan — including the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak and Potter Park Zoo in Lansing — and the Michigan Humane Society have vehemently opposed the new law, arguing it’s risky for bears and humans alike.

Ron Kagan, Director of the Detroit Zoological Society, said they’re worried about public safety because bears can carry dangerous diseases.

They’re also concerned about the exploitation of animals

Said Kagan, “We’ve seen the state records. They’re not rescues of orphaned bear cubs, they’re coming from places around the country that breed bears to sell them as cubs. So, a cub is taken away from its mother at a month-old, which is frankly very cruel, and then sold off. Some of those bears then after they get a little bit bigger apparently are destroyed.”

Snyder did not address such concerns in a statement out Tuesday, saying this is an issue of culture and conservation.

“Oswald’s Bear Ranch is an important piece of the Upper Peninsula culture,” Snyder said. “The Oswalds play an important role in raising rescued cubs to adulthood, as well as providing the public with education about black bears.”

Open since 1997, Oswald’s Bear Ranch currently has 29 bears on site.

Senate Bill 48 was  sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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