How is it that two bears escaped from a facility—putting the public in danger—when officials could have investigated and prevented the escape when first informed about the situation? In October 2023, PETA submitted a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), alerting it to Shae Hensley’s allegedly illegal possession of two Kodiak bears. The commission failed to act quickly. The bears escaped in early December, after which the FWC filed 11 misdemeanor charges against Hensley. On February 7, 2024, we sent another letter, urging the commission to hold everyone involved equally responsible.
The Escape of Two Kodiak Bears
Notorious animal exhibitor Larry Wallach’s license was used to help Hensley with the apparently illegal transfer of the bears from Space Farms Zoo & Museum in New Jersey to Hensley’s property in Baker, Florida. For years, PETA has urged our supporters to tell Wallach to stop exploiting animals.
As PETA has reported and an FWC investigation has confirmed, Wallach is an out-of-state licensee unauthorized to confine bears to any permanent facility in Florida. Most, if not all, information that he provided to the FWC in recent years is verifiably false or questionable.
After the bears escaped from Hensley’s property, the FWC investigated. Unsurprisingly, it found that he was confining these bears to a cramped, wholly inadequate, chain-link enclosure that fell far below the strict standards for facilities and caging required in Florida.
Hensley admitted to forgetting to lock their enclosure, allowing the bears to escape and wander around a residential area. He failed to report that two potentially dangerous animals had escaped from his property. The bears were ultimately found by a member of the public, who could have been seriously injured. Thankfully, this resident recognized that the cubs weren’t black bears native to the area and called authorities before anyone was hurt.
What PETA’s Letter Includes
The FWC could have prevented this hazard had it acted on our complaint and inspected Hensley’s property in October. The FWC had all it needed to locate and seize these bears over a month before the escape occurred.
The bears escaped from the exact unlicensed facility at which PETA informed the FWC that they’d likely be found. They were unlawfully possessed by Hensley, the same unlicensed individual we had reported. And the license that he used to illegally import these bears belonged to Wallach, as we described.
We initially reported this allegedly unlawful activity to the FWC because it was a dangerous situation in the making, which has proved to be true. The commission failed to take our complaint seriously, leading to the escape of two animals and placing the public at significant risk. Our February letter to the FWC addresses how this escape could have been prevented if it had acted swiftly in response to our complaint.
The letter also urges the FWC to charge Wallach—in addition to the charges already filed against Hensley—and to terminate his licenses. This would strip Wallach of his Florida licenses and ensure that they won’t be used to help other exhibitors skirt licensing rules and import more animals into Florida to be exploited for entertainment. Although he hasn’t exhibited in Florida for years, terminating his licenses would prohibit him from doing so in the future.
Kodiak bears, a unique subspecies of the grizzly or brown bear, are from the Kodiak Archipelago in Alaska, where it’s estimated that there are about 3,500 of them. These bears are devoted to one partner at a time, typically mating in May or June. Most sows care for their cubs for three years or longer.
When exhibitors like Wallach and Hensley use Kodiak cubs for entertainment, these bears can’t live in peace as they would in nature or at a reputable sanctuary and their families are torn apart.
What You Can Do
Avoid Wallach’s Sloth Encounters facility, and tell him to stop exploiting other species:
Never buy a ticket to a roadside zoo or circus that exploits bears or other animals: