(CN) — Maryland's Tri-State Zoological Park is empty after a settlement was reached allowing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to relocate the park's animals to reputable zoos.
“What we found was even worse than we anticipated,” said Brittany Peet, PETA's general counsel for captive animal law enforcement, in an interview.
PETA alleged that the Cumberland, Maryland, zoo’s mistreatment of animals constituted a public nuisance. It said the rescue operation, completed on Friday, is the largest involving a private zoo in the organization's history, with 65 animals of 30 different species being relocated.
The settlement came after nearly 20 years of lawsuits alleging animal neglect against Tri-State and its owner Bob Candy.
Candy and his attorney did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the settlement.
A federal judge ruled in 2020 that the zoo had violated the Endangered Species Act after a tiger died due to lack of adequate care. The court described the conditions at the zoo as “dystopic.” While PETA was in the process of suing the zoo for violations of the ESA, five of the nine animals at issue died.
“Testimony in the case from expert witnesses showed that each of these animals had died horrific, often painful deaths as a result of the failure to provide appropriate veterinary care,” Peet said.
Peet said a big issue with private roadside zoos is that the employees are often not adequately trained to deal with the animals. According to the lawsuit, neither Candy nor the zoo’s vet at the time were qualified as experts in the care of lions, tigers and lemurs.
The two sides reached an agreement that allows PETA to relocate the animals to reputable zoos in exchange for Candy being absolved of the outcomes of previous lawsuits.
In an interview with the Cumberland Times-News published last month, Candy said he hoped to close the zoo he opened in 2003 with integrity.
“I’m trying to make it as positive as possible. Hopefully we brought a lot to the community. This is all hard. I’ve done this for the animals, the people, the community, more than for myself,” Candy said.
The operation to remove the 65 animals from Tri-State took five days, and PETA hopes to have all animals relocated to 14 designated zoos and sanctuaries by the end of October. Peet said many animals will need veterinary care after years of neglect.
One of the two bears rescued is morbidly obese and suffers from painful arthritis, according to Peet. One blue-tongue skink was dehydrated to the point that its eyes had sunken into its skull and scales had grown over, making it blind.
“All of the reptiles were dehydrated as a result of being confined in conditions with inadequate heat and humidity,” Peet said.
A New Guinea singing dog was suffering from what a veterinarian described as a horrific skin condition along with potential kidney disease, Peet said, while a potbellied pig named Snorkel is receiving care for a tumor and obesity.
In addition to physical concerns many of the animals suffered mental anguish from subpar living conditions. A spider monkey named Spazz spent 20 years in solitary confinement surrounded by natural predators in the neighboring enclosures causing stress-induced behavior.
Peet took part in the rescue operation and said the enclosures were filled with filth.
“There were feces everywhere,” Peet said. “They just didn’t even bother to clean up the conditions and allowed the animals to live in filth.”
She said she hopes this case will show animal lovers the need to close roadside zoos. She said that there are over 1,000 private zoos in operation in the U.S.
“The conditions there are just horrific and should sound the alarms for anyone who cares about animals that the U.S. Department of Agriculture must step up and do its job,” Peet said, “to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and revoke the licenses of other roadside zoos.”
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