Read the original article by Josh Janney at winchesterstar.com here.
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals is suing the United States Department of Agriculture over its decision to renew federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licenses for six roadside zoos, including Wilson’s Wild Animal Park in Frederick County.
The suit, originally filed in May, listed roadside zoos in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. On Monday, PETA amended the suit to include Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, located east of Winchester.
Delcianna Winders, PETA’s vice president and deputy general counsel for captive animal law enforcement, said in a phone interview with The Star this week that these roadside zoos are “the worst of the worst” and that the lawsuit aims to have a federal court strip them of their licenses and order the USDA to not renew licenses to organizations with AWA violations.
Businesses with warm-blooded animals that are on display, perform for the public or are used in educational presentations must be licensed as exhibitors with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). To receive a license, exhibitors must be in compliance with the AWA’s standards of humane treatment for animals.
USDA officials are allowed to inspect animal exhibitors without notice. If inspectors identify areas that are not in compliance with federal standards, USDA Animal Care will ask for them to be corrected within a set time period. If the issues are not corrected, the USDA can pursue suspending or revoking the exhibitor’s license.
PETA’s lawsuit alleges the licenses of the six roadside zoos were automatically renewed, even though the attractions had AWA violations. The lawsuit states that Wilson’s Wild Animal Park has incurred 14 citations since July 2017, including failing to provide lions and bears sufficient space.
“PETA is calling on the USDA to stop violating the law by signing off on repeat offenders’ license renewals,” Winders said in a news release. “The government shouldn’t hand out licenses to facilities that display animals in minuscule, barren enclosures.”
Last summer, the USDA cited an unnamed Winchester facility that houses animals. The report alleged the facility prevented animals from engaging in “species typical behavior” and said it had only one employee to take care of approximately 175 animals. The report stated the number of employees was insufficient. It also stated the enclosures for the bears and big cats could be improved.
PETA states in its lawsuit that the facility being cited was Wilson’s Wild Animal Park at 985 W. Parkins Mill Road, but the USDA did not confirm this.
Keith Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, declined to comment when contacted last year by The Star.
Mindy Patterson, president of Grover, Mo.-based The Cavalry Group, whose mission is “to fight the radical animal rights agenda legally and legislatively nationwide,” issued a statement to The Star this week on behalf of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park.
“PETA is a radical animal rights organization which uses false and exaggerated claims to raise money and mislead the public with the intent to damage the reputation of legal businesses which do not align with their animal rights ideology,” Patterson’s statement said. “Wilson’s Wild Animal Park is a legal business which meets regular inspection standards of which their most recent USDA inspection reveals total compliance.”
On Aug. 8, the USDA filed a motion to dismiss PETA’s lawsuit, saying it should be barred for collateral estoppel, a doctrine that states that if an issue has already been litigated, it cannot be litigated again. The motion to dismiss says PETA has twice sued the USDA over renewing licenses. The motion says PETA is making the same claim in its new lawsuit.
The motion also says that while the AWA contains language governing the issuance of licenses, it is silent regarding the process and requirements for renewing licenses.
Andre Bell, a public affairs specialist with the USDA, told The Star this week that the USDA does not comment on pending litigation.