Skip to Main Content

Highway Hellholes: 17 Roadside Zoos on the Blacklist

If your family is planning a road trip, you can avoid bringing home awful memories simply by not stopping at decrepit roadside zoos and other cruel tourist traps that exploit animals. Vacationers with money to spend are what keep these archaic exhibits in business, and animals will continue to suffer as long as people heed the call of highway billboards and pull over. And don’t be swayed by places that tack on the word “sanctuary” or “rescue” to their name—it’s a deceptive ploy that many roadside zoos use to dupe unwitting visitors.

Lions in Cage at the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park (GW Zoo)

Don’t spend any of your vacation time at places where animals will still languish in misery long after you’re back home. Here are a few of the grimmest spots for animals:

Alligator Adventure and Barefoot Landing’s T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station

North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Barefoot Landing allows notorious exhibitor Kevin Antle, who forces tiger cubs and chimpanzees to interact with tourists for cruel moneymaking photo ops, to set up shop. Antle’s operation, T.I.G.E.R.S., has been repeatedly cited and has even been fined by federal authorities for serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including failure to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, sufficient cage space, protection from the elements, and clean water.

Reptiles aren’t regulated under the AWA, so the more than 700 alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles at Alligator Adventure are afforded no protection.

Hollywild Animal Park

Wellford, South Carolina

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessed the roadside zoo a penalty of a nearly $19,000 for egregious violations of the AWA.

In January 2015, an electrical fire killed at least 28 animals at Hollywild Animal Park. Park employees told investigators that the roadside zoo’s maintenance staff had done the electrical “upgrades” themselves. Video footage taken at the facility showed animals who were underweight, pacing, crying out in distress, and housed in unsafe enclosures. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Hollywild for dozens of violations, including for the death of a baby alpaca who died from unknown causes in the summer of 2015. The baby’s mother also died from unknown causes. Several unsheared alpacas endured temperatures of up to 100 degrees while another was found severely underweight. Bears were confined to tiny, cramped concrete dens so small that they couldn’t stand on their hind legs, and one had no choice but to lie in her own feces. And a tiger was found caked in filth, confined to a muddy enclosure surrounded by feces and urine. The barn had also not been cleaned in so long that an inspector found the remains of an animal believed to be a deer inside, and discarded building materials and waste were left scattered around the facility.

Waccatee Zoo

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Even though keeping a chimpanzee alone is akin to keeping a human in solitary confinement, this roadside zoo kept a chimpanzee named Chico is isolation for more than 25 years. It has also kept many other primates alone. We begged the zoo to relinquish Chico, the lone chimpanzee there, to a sanctuary so that he could live in comfort with other chimpanzees. But the owners refused to do the right thing for this intelligent, social animal, and in November 2015, Chico died suddenly from congenital heart disease. The facility reportedly had no idea that he had a heart condition. Chico was only 31 years old. The facility has been repeatedly cited for failing to provide animals with veterinary care and having filthy water receptacles and enclosures.

Waccatee Zoo Heartbreaking Primate

Three Bears General Store

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Three Bears General Store is notorious for violating federal animal-protection laws. Visitors to this Tennessee tourist trap have been seen pelting bears with broken dog biscuits and chunks of fruit. The USDA has repeatedly cited Three Bears for failing to allow the animals to enter their dens during the day in order to escape public view or take shelter from inclement weather. The bears apparently have only one water source that they drink from and bathe in. Employees have reported that if the bears are slow to come out of their night pens, they’re locked inside for the rest of the day.

The bears were trapped in their holding pens when the General Store burned down in 2008. Instead of closing this roadside zoo down for good, the owners rebuilt.

Bonnie Springs Ranch

Las Vegas, Nevada

Bonnie Springs Ranch has been cited for confining animals to ramshackle, dilapidated cages and failing to provide animals, including a pig with an open wound and a deer with a lump on his throat, with veterinary care.

Serenity Springs Wildlife Center

Calhan, Colorado

This roadside zoo’s own records show that between 2008 and 2013, one out of every three animals at the facility died. According to the USDA, most of these deaths were the result of improper handling or a lack of veterinary care for suffering animals. This facility has also acquired tigers from the notorious Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park.

Portland Aquarium

Portland, Oregon

Update: The facility closed its doors in 2016, although a spokesperson did not rule out that it could open in a different location. Most of the animals were reportedly shipped to the owner’s Austin location. Also in 2016, Ammon Covino, co-owner of the aquarium, was found to be in violation of the conditions of his parole after his 2015 felony conviction for conspiracy to purchase and sell wildlife illegally.

Death logs revealed that more than 200 marine animals died at the Portland Aquarium in just a three-month period—many of the deaths were the result of starvation and other forms of neglect. This facility is owned by brothers Ammon and Vince Covino, who are also involved with other decrepit aquariums in Austin and San Antonio, Texas.

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

Palm Harbor, Florida

PETA has campaigned against this decrepit hellhole for many years—dating back to when it was called Noell’s Ark Chimp Farm. This facility is by no means a “sanctuary” but rather a roadside menagerie with a long history of AWA violations. Even though license revocations are extremely rare, the USDA yanked Noell’s Ark Chimp Farm’s exhibitor’s license in 1999—yet the same roadside zoo, operated by the granddaughter of the original owners, opened a few years later under a misleadingly grandiose name. The facility has been repeatedly cited for keeping primates in rusty, dilapidated cages with jagged edges and it keeps an orangutan named Pongo in solitary confinement in a barren enclosure.

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Alligator with Swollen Feet

Dade City’s Wild Things

Dade City, Florida

Wild Things offers swimming encounters with tiger cubs and alligators. The facility is notorious for incessantly breeding tigers, only to tear the cubs away from their mothers shortly after birth in order to force the babies to participate in the lucrative and cruel encounters. Once the cubs grow too large for public contact, they’re relegated to tiny cages on the property, where most will spend their lives on a barren concrete pad.

The roadside zoo has also allowed children to use live pythons as paintbrushes, exposing them to the risk of contracting salmonellosis and other zoonotic diseases.

The USDA filed a lawsuit against the roadside zoo for allegedly exposing young animals to systemic stress and abuse by routinely forcing them to “swim” and “play” with members of the public, without protective barriers.

Jungle Island

Miami, Florida

Jungle Island opened in 1936 as Parrot Jungle and was known for its parrot-on-a-bicycle shows. Its animal shows have remained little more than circus acts, but the focus has switched from parrots to other wild animals—including endangered tigers and orangutans. Visitors are encouraged to pay in order to interact with the animals and have their picture taken with them. The roadside zoo’s owner, Bern Levine, has rented out animals for television shows and TV commercials. Levine also discarded an elderly chimpanzee named Edith, sending her to live in a filthy, barren enclosure at a roadside menagerie in Texas.

Jungle Island has also partnered with Kevin Antle. (See T.I.G.E.R.S.)

chimpanzee, Edith, sitting on a tire, looking very depressed

Cherokee Bear Zoo and Santa’s Land

Cherokee, North Carolina

Cherokee Bear Zoo and Santa’s Land—two roadside zoos located on tribal land in western North Carolina—keep bears and other animals in grossly inhumane conditions. As if they were stuck in a 1950s time warp, these facilities display neurotic, hungry bears in desolate concrete pits or cramped cages in which the animals pace back and forth, walk in endless circles, cry, whimper, and “beg” tourists to throw them food.

Cherokee Bear Zoo

Tregembo Animal Park

Wilmington, North Carolina

In 1998, PETA named this roadside zoo (then known as the Tote Em In Zoo) as one of the worst in the country. Other than the name, not much has changed. Visitors have documented horrible living conditions for animals—including algae-filled water receptacles and tiny, filthy cages—and even bodies of dead and decaying animals on the property.

Syrian Bear at Tregembo

The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park

Wynnewood, Oklahoma

The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park (aka “G.W. Exotics” and “G.W. Zoo”) is a sleazy menagerie that buys, sells, trades, and breeds animals. This roadside zoo continues to churn out tiger cubs for use in photo sessions, even though it was under investigation for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs who died within a seven-month period. In 2006, owner Joe Schreibvogel was put on probation for 18 months and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine for nearly 200 AWA violations.

Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari

Gentry, Arkansas

Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari is a living hell for the animals imprisoned there. Many have lost body parts—from the tips of their fingers to the ends of their tails—likely from frostbite or a lack of veterinary care. The USDA has cited the facility after finding animals who were suffering from lesions and a spider monkey who appeared to have exposed bone on some of his toes. In addition, a lion cub was found dead in his enclosure, apparently having been strangled by his collar. The facility has also repeatedly failed to provide animals with adequate shelter.

The owner has been fined nearly $20,000 for animal-welfare violations, and his son admitted to selling four endangered tigers to a Missouri dealer who killed and skinned the cats and sold their hides.


Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Marineland displays one lone orca, beluga whales, dolphins, sea lions, and walruses in cramped tanks. It’s estimated that more than 40 whales and dolphins have died at the theme park. Marineland has imported beluga whales and dolphins who were stolen from their ocean homes. Visitors are allowed to feed and touch the belugas throughout the day. The park also keeps bears, deer, bison, and elk confined to cages that are surrounded by noisy roller coasters and other rides.

An investigation conducted by the Toronto Star detailed widespread reports of negligence, cruelty, and mass animal graves.

Guzoo Animal Farm

Three Hills, Alberta, Canada

Update: In May 2015, the facility was finally forced to get rid of all its exotic animals. The owner sold them to other zoos and announced that he plans to keep most of the domestic stock and open a petting zoo.

Animals have lived and died in squalor at this roadside hellhole since it opened in 1990. Over the years, video and photos have surfaced of feces-filled cages, food crawling with maggots, and piles of dead animals on the property. Zoocheck Canada has compiled a full report on Guzoo’s appalling history.

Bowmanville Zoo

Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada

The Bowmanville Zoo has a history of hauling animals to public events, placing both the public and animals at risk—including an incident in which it forced an elephant named Limba to participate in a parade, even though she was reportedly suffering from cancer. She died shortly thereafter. An audit conducted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (now World Animal Protection) gave the zoo a failing grade in every category. In April 2016, after PETA provided the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) with video footage of zoo owner Michael Hackenberger viciously whipping a tiger, the OSPCA filed five cruelty-to-animals charges against him. In June 2016, the zoo announced that it will be closing its doors by the end of the year and attributed this to PETA’s eyewitness footage. Until it closes, though, tell everyone you know never to go to this miserable place.

Edmonton Valley Zoo

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Even though elephants are extremely social animals and need the company of other elephants for their emotional well-being, Lucy has been alone for years at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Because of Alberta’s frigid winters—which are ill-suited to an Asian elephant—Lucy spends nearly half of the year in a small barn and exhibits behavior that indicates severe psychological distress.

Delightful Destinations

You won’t be taking home anything but souvenirs and great memories from these stops:

  • The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is an organization that has rigorous standards of sanctuary management and animal care. GFAS-accredited sanctuaries never breed animals or use them in commercial activities. These refuges provide animals with excellent lifelong care. Some of the member sanctuaries provide educational tours, but not all of them do, so if you’re interested in visiting one with tours, please check before you go.
  • Established in 1963, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first undersea park created in the United States. The park, combined with the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, encompasses 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. These areas were established to protect and preserve the only living coral reef in the continental United States. You can swim with the animals—in their home, on their terms.
  • Another stop in the Keys could be The Turtle Hospital, which rescues and rehabilitates turtles in trouble and releases back all the turtles it responsibly can.
  • Nashville Shores’ Treetop Adventure Park is a thrilling obstacle course with suspended bridges, scramble nets, swinging logs, Tarzan jumps, and more, all set in the woods. There’s also a water park, camping facilities, and a dog park.
  • The Adventuredome is America’s largest indoor theme park. It features thrill rides, traditional carnival rides, laser tag, miniature golf, bumper cars, midway booths, an arcade, clown shows, and more—all located under a huge glass dome. Only in Las Vegas!
  • Magic Springs & Crystal Falls Water and Theme Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has top concert acts and tons of rides in addition to its water park.
Commenting is closed.
  • Pls Shut Down Black Forest Bear Park! says:

    Ditto to the two previous comments on Black Forest Bear Park in Helen Georgia! I just saw an instagram video showing someone feeding the bears. Absolutely APPALLED at the size of their cement prisons! In my opinion, WORSE than other Bear parks that have already been shut down! So inhumane :'(

  • Jane Fiorindi says:

    Add Bowmanville Zoo to the list. This Ontario roadside zoo keeps an elderly lone elephant who is used for giving rides and is hired out to circuses. Many of the animals display abnormal behaviors caused by frustration and boredom. Visitors are encouraged to get up close to the animals and even feed many of them.

  • Shut Down Black Forest Bear Park! says:

    I’m with Courtney on this…Black Forest Bear Park in Helen GA is NOT humane and must be shut down ASAP. Please check into it, please!

  • Jodie Smith says:

    The sea world in london is a very big attraction for visitors, however the penguins are badly kept they are in a place where there is little room, there is not enough space for them to swim at length nor do they have anything to do they are surrounded by a few walls and cannot put any of their natural instincts to use. I feel that this is very cruel as do other vistors.

  • Animal lover says:

    The Amazing Animals show in Branson, MO should be added to this list. The little dogs are trained to walk on hind quarters for an audience’s entertainment. Those poor little poodles! It can’t be good on their delicate joints.

  • V says:

    La isla shopping mall in cancun Mexico houses dolphins in appalling conditions. Especially with regards to the tiny tank at the top

  • Courtney says:

    Black Forest Bear Park in Helen, GA also needs to be reported on. They cite this place as an “attraction” where you can feed bears. It consists of 8 tiny cement cubicles, two bears to one, with a tiny “pool” for the bears to swim in. They beg for food that you can toss down to them for $1 a tray. The food consists of stale bread and rotting apples. They bake in the hot Georgia sun while sitting in a cement enclosure with their own feces. I left the place crying. It’s truly disgusting.

  • CanadiangirlIam says:

    Calgary Stampede, too, is one that needs to be exposed for the horrible, cruel form of entertainment. Especially when others are being exposed, so should them. Sadly, animal entertainment has no true laws to protect these creatures from this horrific life. Just people like us, to try to give them a voice, to speak out for help when help is needed.

  • Liberty says:

    Animals need a voice. When they can’t vocalize, they need someone to speak for them. Animal entertainment is never in the benefit of the animal. Humans are the cruelist to these animals. We, humans caused this, we humans need to fix it. Animals lives are at stake here.

  • Rosie Craig says:

    The Toronto Star article revealed that the trainer had quit over the horrific conditions that the public dont see.The sealions,walruses,and dolphins are all kept in filthy water,its so bad the workers have to wear hazmat suits and tags that turn white to indicate that the ozone levels are dangerous to be exposed to.One trainer had to quit because of skin rashes from being in the water.The sealions are blind, one had his eye pop out when he barked,are left in dry cells for months at a time with only a bucket in the corner of water,which if you see the video shows the poor creature dipping it’s head into the bucket repeatedly because its eyes are burning and painful.The walrus is so distressed,it is sucking on it’s flipper constantly,it’s eyes are red and covered in lesions.The dolphin’s skin is flaking off,IN LUMPS!The holding pen in the back,away from tourists is small,filthy green water so bad the trainers can hardly see the animals in it.The dolphins,walruses,sealions and belugas all swim with their eyes shut.The deer are in a bare area, no shade,water or food,covered in open wounds,tumors,and starved so they will eat wafer cones from kid’s hands.The bears are losing their fur,and stand in a pit with green filthy water up to their waists begging to be fed cornpops, sold to tourists for 9 dollars a coneful.This is only a few of the atrocities happenning here.Please read the Toronto Star article on Marineland and any links you can find.This man is a monster in my opinion,and has no regard for anything or anyone.A baby beluga was put into a tank with two males who beat it to death over two hours,while the mother kept shoving it over to a park employee who radioed for two hours for help…none came till two hours later it was pulled from the water and died convulsing in an employee’s arms.The horror stories go on and on.All this so people can see animals that don’t belong there,no help,no respite,no escape from their days filled with torment.DO NOT GO THERE PLEASE.

  • vincenzo says:

    please Stop cruelty!!!!

  • Katherine says:

    Shouldn’t the Calgary Stampede be added to this list? The rate of yearly animal deaths each year is mind boggling, yet every year they insist all the animals are treated “according to regulations”..

  • :) says:

    at least six flags great america is just a theme park and not animal hell like discovery kingdom

  • Susan Rubin says:

    When planning vactions time I will avoid going to these places;and will share with others to do the same.

  • Julie says:

    This is true the lawmakers are the ones who can bring about change,but i will never go to anywhere that has caged animals, or makes them perform on cue….the circus, zoo’s are all hell holes for these beautiful animals. We need to teach every child about treating animals decent, even though most humans are not.

  • BERYL FURMAN says:


  • chander kumar soni says:

    really deadly.

  • Ashley says:

    Marineland is disgusting and shameful. My family took me there when I was a kid and it was just depressing. The tanks looked especially tiny, there was only one dolphin left at the time because all the others had died off. The deer were crowded and had no protection from the summer sun and they were covered in the excrement of pigeons who came to eat the food that was left on the ground. The so called ‘friendship cove” where chidren can pet whales, and the poorly maintained rides are accidents waiting to happen in my opinion. This tourist trap is unsanitary and dangerous but I’m sure that it will never be shut down because every tv station in Canada plays non-stop commercials for the place that are geared towards children who want to see the animals. I am sure that this dump wouldn’t be able to prop itself up if it weren’t for the draw provided by the orcas and beluga whales and the scumbags from seaworld have provided them with animals to exibit and to breed so there will be more animals to suffer and pull in paying customers, so it looks like there is no end in sight.

  • Karla Cardenas says:

    Stop cruelty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • France Leblanc says:

    Wow thanks for opening my eyes. Being canadian, i have been to Marineland twice and never knew that so many animals had died there. So sorry for going 🙁

  • ivana santos says:


  • Virginia Greenwood-Warner says:

    What a despicable species we are! There is no place in this world that we do not confirm by our actions just what cruel, savage morons we are. Sadly not until the last creature is dead, will we examine our actions and then it will be far too late.

  • Nora says:

    I would never even think Of going to one of these theme parks and it’s time for people to realize it as well and not go so that these theme parks close.

  • Jennifer says:

    I am so disgusted with this list. I will never go to these theme parks or support these organizations. Hell, the Six Flags in my area doesn’t have a safari and I’m not going there either!

  • leeanna m goodall says:

    we have to put an end to animal mistreatment! what will our future look liek if we dont… and what are your children think of us knowing there living in a world where its just over looked ,there for ok??? its not right!

  • Soriano says:


  • online bedroom furniture stores says:

    this type of parks are unnatural they are against the ethical treatment of animals. I dont know why men forgets always the they are animals themselve and each and every animal feel pain equally and so have equal right to live.

  • Georgina says:

    Stop cruelty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Pj says:

    Animals are not people, but don’t they deserve to be treated like they are? They’re are not ours, and they have feelings too.They can’t speak for themselves, but they CAN and they WILL be heard. How can we help?

  • Prakash Shrivastava says:

    Only animals rescued from wildlife trade, private abusive owners, labs, circuses, animal farms, cruel roadside zoos etc that cannot be returned to wild should be in captivity. Every possible effort should be made to make the lifes of captive animals as enriching as possible & they should get the best care, activities & entertainment.

  • Teresa Sedillo says:

    If we know about this, then what is being done about it? I know that we can do are part by not going to these places, but what else can we do?

  • Debbie C says:

    I was looking on the internet and saw this website for Animal Adventures Live located in Florida. They
    are caging lions, tigers, lemurs, bears, etc. under the premise that these are unwanted animals and or dangerous. I am wondering if keeping them imprisoned is just an excuse to make money off of them? What special training do these people have that qualifies them to run a zoo for these exotics? Not a fan.

  • Chunkyboy says:

    The lawmakers are the real point to address. As awful as the some of these perpetrators are, they must be ignored to an extent in favor of focussing on the lawmakers. Because the lawmakers are the ones who can bring about definate and lasting change.

  • giovanna says:

    IT’s orrible the suffering of this animals!Please avoid animal exhibits

  • Christiane Vander Motte says:

    My admiration goes to Peta and all the people who are defending animals against barbarian practices of humanity. If we want a better world, it has to start with respect for non human species and nature otherwise the world will become more and more cruel toward all species including humans. It’s the task of top politicians like Barack Obama and other top leaders to speak up for protection of animals and nature. It has to come from the top and then things might start to change. I admire all those who defend the rights of animals and who fight daily to protect and respect these poor creatures. When human kind will stop putting itself at the top of hierarchy of all species, things might change for the better. I pray that that day will come! meanwhile I suffer each day thinking of all animals who are being tortured, killed, exploited, manipulated for money, or purely out of sadistic behaviour. Bravo to Peta for their courage and their achievements and keeping us informed of what’s going on on this planet ! You are doing a fantastic job !
    With all my admiration. Christiane Vander Motte.

  • Carol-Ann says:

    It really sickens me that humanbeings think that it is their right to make money off of animals. It is slavery, pure and simple. What makes some humans really think that they have this right over animals. I actually respect animals over many people. I feel repulsed by such people who have this sense of intitlement over animal’s right and freedoms!!

  • Evelyn H says:

    It just hurts my nature lovin’ heart to hear/read about animals being treated so inhumanely. How can anyone believe they have the right to do such cruel things to animals and their habitats?