Here’s Why the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation Is the ‘Worst Roadside Zoo in America’

The big cats, bears, and other animals at the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation (Kirshner)—a roadside zoo in Oroville, California––live in tiny, dismal chain-link cages without access to grass, trees, pools, or any other meaningful environmental enrichment.

A tiger named Majestic-Lapua in his cramped cage at Kirshner Wildlife Foundation

A tiger named Majestic-Lapua in his cramped cage at Kirshner

Kirshner has a long, troubling history of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—which is responsible for enforcing the AWA—has repeatedly cited this notorious facility for failing to provide for even the most basic needs of the animals it confines. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA)—a state agency responsible for ensuring workplace safety—has also cited the roadside zoo for failing to keep its workers safe.

Check out the timeline of citations from state and federal agencies below to discover why PETA dubbed Kirshner the “Worst Roadside Zoo in America.”

2015: A Rare USDA Fine for Kirshner

In November 2015, the USDA hit Kirshner with a $5,464 penalty for six alleged violations of the AWA that took place between November 2011 and August 2014, including one for failing to provide a tiger and a lynx with veterinary care and four for allowing members of the public to directly (and dangerously) interact with lions, tigers, and a bear.

The USDA only issues such penalties for egregious animal welfare violations, securing Kirshner’s place among the worst of the worst roadside zoos.

A black bear cub sits in a bucket of drinking water inside a cage at Kirshner Wildlife Foundation

A black bear cub sits in a bucket of drinking water inside a cage at Kirshner.

2016–2019: 10 More Citations for Violating the AWA

Despite the 2015 USDA penalty, Kirshner continued to rack up citations for failing to care properly for the animals it caged. From 2016 through 2019, the USDA cited the roadside zoo 10 times for violating the AWA.

These lowlights illustrate the egregious suffering that animals endured at Kirshner.

  • July 20, 2016: The USDA cited the facility for failing to handle a 16-week-old lion cub named Atlas properly and safely after staff allowed a member of the public to hold him without using a harness or a leash. The inspector noted that he “appeared to be struggling and pushing away from the individual holding him.”
  • April 26, 2017: The feds cited the operation for failing to provide a lynx who had a history of seizures with adequate veterinary care. After enduring back-to-back seizures, he was found dead in his enclosure. The USDA inspector noted, “The only treatment regimen ever attempted was phenobarbital alone, which was not sufficient to adequately control the seizures in this animal.”
  • April 26, June 7, and June 26, 2017: The USDA cited Kirshner on each of these days over its failure to provide a lion cub named Lucie with adequate veterinary care and an appropriate diet. According to inspection reports, she became “severely lame, uncomfortable, and unwilling to stand,” and at the request of USDA officials, radiologists reviewed imaging of her bones and determined that they showed signs “typically seen in metabolic bone disease, which can be caused by a dietary deficiency.”
  • August 15, 2019: Kirshner was cited for failing to provide animals with cooling measures in triple-digit temperatures. The USDA inspector noted that several animals “were panting and appeared uncomfortable and hot.” Inside a den box where a clouded leopard was observed panting, a thermometer showed the surface temperature to be about 106 degrees. Under the deck in the ringtail enclosure, it was around 110 degrees.
Lion Lucie pants in the heat

Lucie against the fencing of her tiny enclosure

2021–2022: Kirshner Receives More Than a Dozen Additional AWA Citations Plus Multiple Penalties From Cal/OSHA

From January 2021 through June 2022, the USDA doled out 13 more AWA citations to Kirshner––an average of one citation every six weeks. In seven straight USDA inspection reports, officials detailed many of the same problems, indicating that this seedy facility was apparently incapable of fixing its issues or unwilling to do so.

The serious issues documented at America’s worst roadside zoo caused animals to suffer and jeopardized their welfare. They included inadequate veterinary care, improper handling of animals, and inadequate cooling measures during hot weather.

  • January 7, 2021: The USDA cited Kirshner for failing to have a valid written program of veterinary care.
  • June 22, 2021: The USDA cited Kirshner over an incident in February 2021 in which a volunteer was injured by a leopard named Royal while she was inside the big cat’s enclosure. Cal/OSHA later fined the facility $1,800 for allowing this incident to occur. The Cal/OSHA summary explained that the leopard had jumped on the volunteer after she fell down and started biting her around the neck, inflicting puncture wounds that required hospitalization. The leopard escaped their primary enclosure and was deemed “a threat to the community until [the animal] was back inside [the] primary containment,” according to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection report.
  • August 11, 2021: USDA officials cited Kirshner—again—for failing to provide animals with cooling measures, this time on a day forecasted to reach 106 degrees. The inspector noted several animals who appeared uncomfortable, particularly those who were overweight, including a tiger, a tiger/lion hybrid, a leopard, a lynx, and a clouded leopard. The inspector also observed that numerous cats were displaying visible signs of labored respiration, such as open-mouth breathing, owing to the heat.
  • August 11, 2021: Kirshner was cited for failing to provide a deer who had overgrown hooves with adequate veterinary care, which could cause discomfort and lead to injuries or lameness.
  • November 1, 2021: Kirshner was cited for failing to notify its veterinarian about a coatimundi’s progressing hair loss and wounded leg. It also failed to notify the vet about a wolf who was incessantly pacing around an enclosure, to the point of wearing a deep track into the ground.
  • January 4, 2022: Kirshner failed to handle a snow leopard in a way that minimized the risk of harm to the animal, earning the worst roadside zoo in America yet another citation. This came after a Kirshner volunteer took the snow leopard to a juvenile detention facility, where two people were photographed holding the cat.
  • April 22, 2022: Stemming from a PETA complaint, Cal/OSHA again cited and fined Kirshner based on several social media posts showing staff dangerously handling a leopard who was too large and too mature to be handled safely by members of the public.
  • June 15, 2022: Kirshner was cited for failing to consider the psychological well-being of a ring-tailed lemur who was being housed alone after the death of another lemur.
overweight Tiliger in a cage at Kirshner Wildlife Foundation

An overweight tiger/lion hybrid named Topaz standing in the corner of a cage

What You Can Do for the Big Cats, Bears, and Other Animals at America’s Worst Roadside Zoo

Never buy a ticket to Kirshner or any other roadside zoo where animals languish in miserable conditions. Please let your friends, family members, and social media followers know why they should do the same.

And please urge the Barry Kirshner Wildlife Foundation to send the animals it exploits to reputable facilities, where they could finally get the care they desperately need:

Take Action Now!

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind