Appeal Underway in Lawsuit Over Roadside Zoos’ Licenses

For Immediate Release:
May 9, 2017

David Perle 202-483-7382

Richmond, Va.

Tomorrow, after hearing oral arguments from lawyers for PETA, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will have the opportunity to correct a lower-court ruling that found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the discretion to renew (or “rubber stamp”) licenses issued to exhibitors, such as SWFS, that the agency knows are in chronic violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—will argue that the AWA was intended to ensure that covered animals “are provided humane care and treatment” and that the act allows an animal exhibitor to be issued a license only if the applicant can demonstrate that it’s operating in accordance with AWA regulations.

But the USDA continues to renew the licenses of businesses like Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary in Brown City, Michigan—which was named in the lawsuit—where conditions were so bad that a USDA inspector recently described the roadside zoo as having a “culture of indifference” that “is animal cruelty” and “puts all animals at the facility in danger.” Among other recent incidents, a 14-month-old tiger was extremely unsteady on her feet and was not receiving adequate veterinary care for an infection. The inspector noted that her “worsening condition” could “lead to additional animal suffering and possibly death.” The Tri-State Zoological Park (aka “Tri-State Zoo”), another facility (in Cumberland, Maryland) named in the suit, displays highly social primates in isolation, including a capuchin monkey who is apparently so stressed from the conditions of his confinement that he has been seen picking at his skin until he bleeds. The roadside zoo was also recently cited after the condition of a 13-year-old, apparently emaciated, ailing lion hadn’t been diagnosed by a veterinarian with exotic-cat experience.

“Ramshackle roadside zoos across the country keep racking up violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and the USDA keeps renewing their licenses every year like clockwork,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet. “PETA is calling on the USDA to stop signing off on suffering and urging Summer Wind Farms, the Tri-State Zoo, and other facilities to move these animals to reputable sanctuaries now.”

More information about the lawsuit is available here, and the plaintiffs are represented by Washington, D.C., public-interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

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