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Yellow River Ranch "not perfect," but clears gov't inspections | News

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Yellow River Ranch "not perfect," but clears gov't inspections

LILBURN, Ga.-- Last week, we told you about 17 bears relocated from a popular tourist attraction in Helen to Colorado.

PETA and the Atlanta Humane society teamed up after accusations that the bears were being mistreated.  That story sparked a conversation on our Facebook page.

Megan wrote: "If anyone has been to the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn.... they also have bears in a containment just like this one. its very sad and something needs to be done."

Stacey added: "The Yellow River Game Ranch is horrible now!  Not how I remember it from when I was younger.  I left in tears when I went over the summer."

And then Page said : "I hope someone checks out the animals at Yellow River Game Ranch.... the last time we were there....the animals were kept in tiny pens. They hardly moved at all ....and it was just SAD." 

11Alive's Doug Richards went to the Yellow River Game Ranch to check things out.

The bear habitat here is concrete pit, enclosed with metal mesh. It's a far cry from the natural habitat of the black bears found in north Georgia.

"Yeah. This area is concrete and steel," said Codi Reeves, majority owner of the Yellow River Game Ranch, outside the habitat shared by six bears.

At first blush, it may be a bit jarring. But the cage is roomy and clean. The black bear that we can see appears lively and healthy. "In a perfect world, we would have a really large grassy area they could play in, and a pond to swim in and stuff like that," Reeves said. "But it's all a matter of funding."

And the privately owned Yellow River game ranch is sustained by ticket sales. It's a place where you'll find deer in large wooded area behind a chain link fence -- and a coyote or bobcat pacing nearby inside a much smaller cage.

"In the wild they would all roam a lot more than they can do here,"Reeves said. "Like coyotes roam for miles and miles. How would you do that (here)?" Reeves asked.

The Yellow River Game Ranch has been a popular attraction for decades, mostly drawing families who pay five to seven dollars a person to roam the 24 acre habitat. It's best known as the home of General Beauregard Lee, a groundhog who makes well-publicized appearances each Groundhog Day. Reeves says most of the animals are rescues; many of them, he says, were given up by families who'd gotten them as babies and couldn't handle the animals as they grew older.

The facility is subject to routine inspection by the federal and state departments of agriculture, as well as the state department of natural resources. In fact, a DNR inspector was here this week in response to a complaint from the public.

"While they were there they didn't find any violations and [the facility was] in compliance with the law," said Stephen Adams of DNR.

Records also show a clean federal Agriculture Department inspection here two years ago in April 2012. In January 2012, a federal agriculture inspector found rotten wood in a rabbit enclosure. And a wet pig pen with "no dry surface for the pigs to stand." The report listed them as "indirect non-compliances".

"It's not perfect," Reeves said.

Reeves says the Yellow River game ranch strives for cleanliness and humane treatment for its animals -- within the restrictions of its space and budget.