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Roadside Zoos & Backyard Menageries

Roadside zoos run the gamut from small menageries where animals are kept in barren cages constructed of concrete and metal bars to larger compounds that are surrounded by chain-link fencing. They are usually privately owned and not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The focus is on amusing customers rather than meeting the animals’ needs.

For years, an Illinois menagerie called Land O’ Lorin crammed more than 100 animals, including lions, bears, tigers, and primates, into small cages in the owner’s 5-acre back yard. On numerous occasions before Land O’ Lorin shut down, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors found dead and dying animals, a lack of veterinary care, filthy conditions, poorly maintained cages, insufficient shelter and space, and inadequate food and water.

Many of the animals exhibited stereotypic behaviors. A 6-year-old bobcat who had spent his entire life neurotically walking in counterclockwise circles in his tiny cell continued to pace in a 4-foot circle long after his rescue. A river otter who had previously been provided with only a bathtub was unable to swim when he was sent to a more spacious facility.

At G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park (GW), a poorly run facility in Oklahoma, PETA’s undercover investigator found dead, dying, and injured animals; extremely crowded conditions; undernourished animals (sometimes going without food for days at a time); animals denied veterinary care; woefully inadequate cages; insufficient numbers of employees; and untrained staff members who were intentionally cruel to numerous animals.

PETA’s investigator witnessed many horrors during the five-month investigation: Animals were routinely hit, punched, kicked, sprayed with cold water, struck with rakes and shovels, and blasted with fire extinguishers to break up frequent fights.

Two badly injured horses who were in excruciating pain (including a former racehorse with a broken leg) were dumped at the park. Staff members let the horses suffer for days until they could be butchered to be fed to the big cats. Tigers attacked a lion named Julie and chewed off her leg. When she pulled out the stitches, her open wound went untreated. Although she moaned for weeks, she was given nothing for pain.

Two lion cubs who had recently been declawed were forced to interact with the public until their paws bled. A tiger named Mikala, who hobbled around in pain on three legs after she had been declawed, suffered in this condition for two years before she was euthanized.

GW breeds tigers, lions, bears, and other exotic animals. Some are deformed, likely because of inbreeding or inadequate nutrition for the mother during pregnancy. Newborns, many just hours old, are removed from their mothers and dragged around the country to shopping malls and fairgrounds to be used in GW’s cheesy magic act and for photo shoots.

Many of the babies have died within a few weeks of birth, presumably succumbing to the stress of travel and handling by the public. Once the cubs are too big to be used for photo shoots—at approximately 3 months of age—GW discards many of them by placing advertisements for free tigers, lions, and bears in Animal Finder’s Guide, a trade publication that peddles exotic animals to breeders, dealers, hunting ranches, and the pet trade.

Next time you pass a roadside zoo, please keep on driving. These cruel operations stay in business only because people patronize them.