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March 5, 2010

The HSUS Conducts Investigation, Files Complaint Against Mississippi Roadside Zoo

Group alleges significant welfare, safety violations

After conducting a 28-day undercover investigation at the Collins Zoo in Collins, Miss., The Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal protection organization, filed a complaint against the zoo with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks alleging significant welfare and safety violations of state law that governs the possession of "wild animals inherently dangerous to humans." 

The Collins Zoo houses numerous exotic animals defined as "inherently dangerous," including four cougars, four wolves (one of whom died during the span of the investigation), three leopards, six tigers, a lion and a macaque monkey. The HSUS' complaint includes allegations of numerous potential violations of the minimum standards set by the state for housing and care of inherently dangerous animals, and is supported by video and still images from the investigation.

"Our investigation of the Collins Zoo demonstrates that both people and animals may be at risk. We urge the state to enforce the law and seize the inherently dangerous animals there before someone is hurt or another animal dies," said Adam Parascandola, The HSUS' director of animal cruelty issues.

At the request of The HSUS, a veterinarian and zoo consultant with experience in captive wildlife visited the Collins Zoo and provided a written assessment of conditions there. The veterinarian found malnourished animals, a black leopard who needed veterinary attention for a front leg injury, and caging for two tigers so flimsy that he cited the potential for the animals to escape into the neighborhood. He also expressed grave concerns about venomous snakes being held in unlocked enclosures accessible to the public.

An HSUS investigator who volunteered at the Collins Zoo from October 2009 through December 2009 believes, based on his/her observations, that enclosures at the Collins Zoo do not adequately protect the public from the zoo's animals who are able to cause severe injury and even death. Moreover, during the investigation, the investigator observed animals at Collins Zoo who were not maintained according to standard husbandry practices, were not provided with adequate veterinary care or shelter, and were sometimes deliberately mistreated. The HSUS investigator filmed the lions, tigers, cougars, leopards and the macaque monkey exhibiting stereotypic behaviors, possibly as a result of their deprived living conditions. Some enclosures have no mechanism for locking out the dangerous wild animals so their cages can be cleaned. As a result, the animals could be subjected to unsanitary conditions and may not be safely segregated if one needs veterinary attention.

The HSUS complaint requests the state agency take immediate action to seize the inherently dangerous animals at the zoo, and offers to assist with the animals' placement. To see the undercover B-roll video, click here.

Findings from the investigation include:

  • The zoo owners do not appear to have either a permit or an exemption certificate for the possession of inherently dangerous animals, nor do they appear to qualify for one.
  • Many of the inherently dangerous animals at the Collins Zoo are held in cages that do not meet the requirements set forth by the Department. Some of the cages are ramshackle in nature or worn and are unable to be properly sanitized, which could result in human injury or adversely affect animal health.
  • Patrons at the Collins Zoo walk along a pathway to view species defined by the state of Mississippi as inherently dangerous to humans. A wooden railing approximately three feet high is all that separates the public from the animals' enclosures. As with all cages at the Collins Zoo, these agitated wild animals are accessible to the public with a simple hop over the wooden barrier. 
  • Olive, a black wolf, was found ill on Dec. 11, 2009, by The HSUS investigator, who immediately told the zoo's owners, who said they would call a veterinarian. Olive had a very distended stomach and was lethargic and drooling. The investigator later learned that Olive died two days later without having seen a veterinarian and without having being medicated. She was buried in the goat pen on the owners' property.
  • The enclosures housing the lion, the tigers, the cougars and the leopards all have major problems eliminating excess water. Standing pools of water were observed by The HSUS investigator on multiple days. The cougar enclosure experienced flooding on Oct. 30, 2009, leaving the animals standing in pools of water while it rained.
  • The veterinarian who visited the facility also expressed concern over the cougars, stating: "All of the cats appeared visibly thin evidenced by clearly visible points of the hip bones, loss of muscle mass along the top-line…a very distinct, high tummy tuck and lack of facial/neck fat….Based on the body condition scoring charts for domestic cats…all [were] thin to emaciated."
  • The barren, isolated environment in which the macaque is kept appears to be inappropriate for a social primate, and has negative repercussions on his well-being as evidenced by frequent pacing and chattering — observed by both the investigator and the veterinarian — as well as self-mutilation, which is often seen in primates living in deprived conditions. 

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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