May 14, 2013
USDA Revokes License of Mississippi Roadside Zoo
Decision Follows HSUS Undercover Investigation and Legal Complaints
Editor’s Note: On appeal, the USDA’s Judicial Officer upheld the license revocation and added a civil penalty of $39, 375 for the 22 AWA violations (including unsanitary and structurally unsound big cat enclosures and failure to provide appropriate veterinary care), which led to the deaths of several animals and threatened public safety at this roadside zoo.
A roadside zoo in Mississippi has lost its exhibitor license after 43 years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked the license following an undercover investigation and legal complaints to state and federal officials by The Humane Society of the United States. In January 2012, The HSUS assisted the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks in the seizure of tigers, cougars, leopards, a macaque monkey and wolf-hybrids from this unaccredited facility, Collins Zoo, which long failed to comply with state and federal regulations concerning dangerous wild animals. Following the state’s enforcement action, attorneys with HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation section formally requested that USDA revoke the facility’s license.
In reference to the zoo’s owner, the USDA administrative law judge determined that the “erosion of [his] resources has placed animals in jeopardy, and it is imperative that future risk of harm be avoided.” USDA moved for license revocation after a large number of animals died at the facility, including at least one tiger, a lion, a leopard, a cougar, a wolf and a dingo in a two year period from 2010-2012.
“This action shows government oversight of private possession of dangerous wild animals is improving,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation and investigations at The HSUS. “But there’s a long way to go. To protect animal welfare and public safety, state and federal agencies must take additional steps to ensure that big cats, primates, bears, wolves and other inherently dangerous animals do not end up in the wrong hands.”
The judge found that “at times, animals showed obvious symptoms of distress, discomfort and/or disease and were not provided veterinary care.” The judge also held that the facility failed to maintain adequate records regarding the acquisition of animals, which calls into question whether this substandard facility was involved in the exotic pet trade.
Over the years USDA repeatedly cited Collins Zoo for failing to safely handle animals, for cages housing dangerous animals that lacked structural integrity, and for failing to provide adequate shelter and veterinary care. While HSUS applauds the agency for revoking this license, this case illustrates the need for USDA to more strictly evaluate annual applications for license renewals, as numerous facilities that are routinely noncompliant with the Animal Welfare Act nevertheless continue to receive annual license renewal from the agency. Last October, The HSUS and other animal welfare and conservation groups filed a legal petition asking the USDA to prohibit public contact with big cats, bears and primates under the Animal Welfare Act.
The State of Mississippi has an ongoing enforcement action against Collins Zoo, and the revocation of the facility’s federal license will strengthen the state’s ability to ensure that the facility does not acquire any more inherently dangerous animals. In the interim, three tigers seized from Collins Zoo are being rehabilitated at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which is owned and operated by The Fund for Animals in partnership with The HSUS.
Raúl Arce-Contreras: 301-721-6440, firstname.lastname@example.org