If you’ve watched the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, you may have heard about some of the roadside zoos mentioned below. These cruel tourist traps exploit tigers, lions, and other animals for profit, causing lifelong suffering that is only briefly touched on in Tiger King. Vacationers who spend money on these archaic exhibits keep them in business, and animals will continue to suffer as long as people keep heeding the call of highway billboards and pulling over. 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.
Be sure not to spend any of your vacation time at places where animals will still languish in misery long after you’re back home. View our interactive Google Earth presentation with Chrome to see if any hellholes are situated near you:
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 Bhagavan “Doc” 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 AWA, including for failing 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 hundreds of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles at Alligator Adventure are afforded no protection.
Waccatee Zoological Farm
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Animals trapped at Waccatee are left to languish inside virtually barren enclosures with little or no stimulation. Bears pace back and forth along the fence line of their cage, monkeys pick at their own hair out of frustration, and isolated baboons sway and roll their heads—all signs of psychological distress. A tiger named Lila died after suffering for years at the decrepit facility. During the last year of her life, her physical condition deteriorated to the point that she was almost completely bald.
Waccatee also has a long history of violating the AWA, including by failing to provide animals with veterinary care. Inspection reports have noted that bears, baboons, and a cougar at the roadside zoo have displayed abnormal behavior. One of the sheep’s claws was so badly overgrown that it appeared to be “growing sideways,” two thin squirrel monkeys had severe hair loss and redness over their rear legs and most of their tails but had not received veterinary treatment, and a lion appeared to have difficulty moving his rear legs (swaying and swinging the legs out), which “can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, parasitic diseases, or other illnesses.”
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 U.S. Department of Agriculture (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. 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.
In nearby Gatlinburg, there are yet more bear pits. Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounters keeps bears—often referred to as the “Ober bears”—in similarly appalling conditions.
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 and then Mae Noell’s Chimp Farm. This facility is by no means a “sanctuary”—rather, it’s a roadside menagerie with a long history of AWA violations. Even though license revocations are extremely rare, the USDA yanked the facility’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.
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 the 1950s, these facilities display often neurotic bears in desolate concrete pits or cramped cages.
Tregembo Animal Park
Wilmington, North Carolina
PETA has been monitoring this roadside zoo—one of the worst in the country—for over 20 years. Visitors have documented the horrible living conditions for animals, including algae-filled water receptacles and cramped, filthy cages, and have even found bodies of dead and decaying animals on the property.
An eyewitness documented that animals are kept inside small cages and are in apparent need of veterinary attention. Video footage shows a limping guenon monkey, a fox and a donkey with hair loss, and a bobcat who appeared to have difficulty navigating up a structure. Many animals at this facility exhibit neurotic repetitive behavior patterns.
In 2017, after two North Carolina residents filed a lawsuit against Tregembo alleging that the roadside zoo’s treatment of the bears Ben and Booger violates the state’s anti-cruelty statute, both bears were moved to a reputable animal sanctuary.
Clark’s Trading Post
Lincoln, New Hampshire
Clark’s Trading Post confines North American black bears to grossly undersized and barren concrete pits and forces them to ride scooters, be pushed on a swing, and eat ice cream from a spoon.
Pymatuning Deer Park
This notorious roadside zoo was hit with an official warning for more than a dozen AWA violations—including for confining visibly ailing bears to concrete pits, with no opportunities to swim, climb, dig, den, or engage in other types of natural behavior. Other violations included repeatedly failing to clean up animals’ waste, failing to maintain a current veterinary program, and failing to have a sufficient number of adequately trained employees—among many other issues.
Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo
Kingwood, West Virginia
Hovatter’s allowed an alpaca’s teeth to become so overgrown that the animal’s ability to eat was impaired, and it failed to provide young lion cubs with adequate nutrition. The feds cited the roadside zoo for failing to provide chimpanzees with adequate enrichment after PETA filed a complaint, which presented evidence that the chimpanzees had experienced hair loss—possibly as a result of over-grooming caused by a lack of stimulation—and that one chimpanzee repeatedly sucked on his hand for over 30 minutes.
Tri-State Zoological Park
In late 2019, in response to a PETA Endangered Species Act lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled against Tri-State Zoological Park, ordering the roadside zoo to relinquish two tigers and a lion to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, which is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Other animals at Tri-State are still suffering in deplorable conditions, including a solitary capuchin who has pulled his own hair out, apparently from sheer frustration. Tri-State has repeatedly failed to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, maintain clean and safe enclosures, provide primates who are held alone with sufficient environmental enrichment, and provide animals with adequate shelter from the wind and cold temperatures.
Natural Bridge Zoo and Virginia Safari Park
Natural Bridge, Virginia
The Natural Bridge Zoo keeps a lone elephant named Asha, who has spent years without the company of another elephant. During the winter, she’s locked inside a cold, damp barn, and in the summer heat, she’s forced to walk in endless circles while giving rides. The roadside zoo has been cited for nearly 150 violations of the AWA, including for denying dozens of animals adequate veterinary care, withholding food from bears, confining animals to mud-filled enclosures, and using cubs who were too young to be handled and others who were too big and strong for photo ops. The USDA has ordered Natural Bridge Zoo to pay more than $20,000 in federal animal welfare penalties and suspended its license on two separate occasions, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has also suspended its permit because of unsanitary and inhumane conditions.
Nearby, at the Virginia Safari Park, animals are subjected to a pattern of mistreatment. In 2018, CEO Eric Mogensen was assessed a $99,999 civil penalty to settle an administrative lawsuit brought under the AWA alleging that animals at Virginia Safari Park and Mogensen’s other facilities were denied veterinary care for diseases and injuries, including a spider monkey named Jethro who was allowed to languish for nearly two weeks in subfreezing temperatures without care from a veterinarian, despite having arrived at the park suffering from severe frostbite. The lawsuit also alleged that Mogensen had falsified records to cover up the intentional drowning of a wallaby by his daughter, who was convicted of cruelty to animals for the crime.
The Preserve is the grandiose rebranding of Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), an “entertainment” company that rented out elephants for movies, photo shoots, elephant rides, parades, and cheesy reality television shows. HTWT is on record endorsing the use of painful electrical shock devices called “hot shots” to discipline and control elephants. And HTWT trainers were caught on video beating endangered elephants, including a baby, with bullhooks and shocking them with electric prods.
Not a lot has changed for the elephants under the exhibitor’s new name—trainers still wield painful bullhooks to intimidate the animals and force them to participate in photo ops as well as gimmicky “tricks” such as playing a harmonica, kicking a soccer ball, and painting with their trunks. No true preserve would ever force animals to perform for visitors.
West Coast Game Park Safari
A teenage chimpanzee named George is relegated to a small enclosure at this highway roadside zoo after he was cast aside by the entertainment industry when he became too large to control. He shares the already cramped space with another chimpanzee named Daphne, who has spent nearly half a century trapped in inadequate conditions. West Coast Game Park also forces baby wild animals to be used in photo ops, tearing sensitive bear and big cat cubs away from their nurturing mothers in order to make a profit. After PETA alerted the USDA to a suffering leopard named Ninja, who was found sucking on a raw, untreated wound on his tail, the agency cited the roadside zoo for failing to provide the animal with adequate veterinary care. On a follow-up visit, inspectors documented additional animals suffering, including a bear with extensive hair loss. A solitary peccary was also languishing at the facility with an inflamed eye and overgrown hooves. The USDA concluded that the safari park has a “pattern of personnel not performing adequate daily assessment of animal health.”
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
MarineLand displays one lone orca, beluga whales, dolphins, sea lions, and walruses in cramped tanks. The infamous marine park has imported beluga whales and dolphins who were abducted from their ocean homes, and 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 theme park rides. An investigation conducted by the Toronto Star detailed widespread reports of negligence, cruelty, and mass animal graves.
Nationwide, SeaQuest aquariums have popped up inside shopping malls, and in just a few years, the shady company has amassed dozens of reports of animal neglect, animal deaths, legal violations, and injuries to the public. Animals at SeaQuest are trapped indoors, confined to cramped and crowded enclosures and harassed by a steady stream of human visitors.
At SeaQuest’s Las Vegas location, which was cited and fined $2,000 for illegally possessing four baby otters, former employees reported seeing birds stepped on and killed, turtles crushed by children, and an octopus boiled alive when the tank’s water temperature changed. Officials suspended the state permit of the SeaQuest in Littleton, Colorado, after a series of state law and permit violations, including an incident in which a sloth sustained serious burns to his face from a heat lamp. And within a month after a SeaQuest opened in Folsom, California, a visitor reportedly found a dead stingray in a tank. Children were still touching the animal’s lifeless body.
Are there any SeaQuest aquariums on your road trip itinerary? Click on the link below to view our interactive Google Earth presentation with Chrome to find out:
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 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 all those it responsibly can back into the wild.
- 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 are 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 Theme and Water Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has top concert acts and tons of rides in addition to its water park.