LANSING (WWJ/AP) – The Michigan Senate has approved a bill that would let the public touch and get photos with bear cubs in the state.

In December, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation because it also would have allowed more facilities to acquire and keep large carnivores. But he said he supported a provision pertaining to bear cubs.

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An Upper Peninsula bear ranch had to stop letting visitors pose for photos while feeding black bear cubs last year after being told it was illegal.

The bill would let the public handle bear cubs at 36 weeks old and weighing under 90 pounds.

“These are wild animals; they’re not domestic animals; they are not meant to be domestic animals,” said Tara Harrison, a veterinarian at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, who opposes the legislation. “It takes thousands and thousands of years to domesticate animals. So even though they may tames these bears down, they still are a risk to people.

“Anytime you take away an animals from its parents and you’re hand-raising them, they now have abnormal behaviors. And it’s not healthy for the babies — they get more exposure to diseases,” she added.

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Harrison said bear cubs are known to spread rabies and other diseases.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said Michigan’s 2000 law regulating the ownership of lions, big cats and bears was prompted by the mauling of a young girl. “We should think carefully about making changes like this,” she said, echoing concerns posed by the Humane Society of the United States.

Warren expressed concern that operators of small, road-side operations cannot treat animals as well as zoos do.

Bear ranchers argue that allowing people to interact with cubs is a vital part of their business.

The Republican-led House is expected to consider the bear-cub bill before warmer weather arrives in the spring. Other changes opposed by Snyder — including expanding permission to keep large carnivores to breeders  — could be proposed again this legislative session

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