Zoo bear cub escaped as northern Minn. man stopped for snack

A northern Minnesota man just got fined for losing a bear cub more than a year ago.

Kevin Vogel is a zookeeper. He runs the Safari North Wildlife Park in Brainerd, Minn., and raises exotic animals at a farm in southwestern Minnesota.

One day in October of 2014, he was bringing a 40 pound Syrian brown bear cub named Miley to his park when he realized he'd missed lunch. He pulled over at a gas station in Clearwater, Minn., and ran in for a snack.

He ate a candy bar on the road, not thinking much of the stop until he reached the wildlife park an hour and a half later.

When he checked the trailer the bear was gone.

"When I opened up the door and it wasn't there," he said. "It was the worst feeling in the world. I lost 10 years off my life."

Somewhere on the way from his Sanborn, Minn., farm to the park something went wrong with the latch on Miley's enclosure.

"This is something you don't wish on your worst enemy," he said.

First Vogel called his wife, then the authorities. He wasn't sure exactly where Miley left his trailer, but he hoped she made her break in Clearwater. That was the only place he stopped — anywhere else and she would have bailed out at highway speed.

Losing a bear, even a small one, is very different than misplacing a pet. As a zookeeper, Vogel is responsible for damage his animals might exact.

"A bear cub isn't going to mutilate anybody," he said, "but they could definitely leave a mark."

A few hours after he made the call, Miley was captured near the gas station in Clearwater. She was taken to a local animal hospital until Vogel could get back with his trailer.

"There were no injuries to the bear, or to anybody else," he said. "It had a happy ending."

Since this all happened more than a year ago, Miley is now a several hundred pound adult. She's popular with the children that frequent Safari North.

Vogel thought the bear escape was behind him, but recently he got a letter leveling $1,357 in federal fines.

It took more than a year for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the investigative branch of the USDA, to process his paperwork.

There are plenty of wild bears in Minnesota. Sometimes they even wander into urban areas to plunder trashcans and frighten pedestrians.

APHIS does not level fines when a wild bear encroaches, but zoo bears fall into a different legal category.

According to the official APHIS report, Vogel violated the Animal Welfare Act by not keeping Miley in a strong enough cage.

Vogel said the faulty latch has been replaced. He hasn't lost an animal since.

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