Exotic animal facility ships big cats to another over crowded breeding compound
WARREN COUNTY — As she watched animals she had raised being loaded onto a truck headed to Oklahoma, Sandra Smith didn’t know whether to cry or smile.
Smith, along with her husband, Ken, is the co-founder of Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, an exotic animal facility near Warrenton. Amidst ongoing allegations of neglect and after a tiger attack Aug. 3, the Smiths decided to close their facility and relocate their animals.
On Saturday, about 20 lions and tigers, two wolves, a mountain lion, a bear and a leopard departed for the G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, OK.
Smith found it difficult to watch 20 years of her life be packed into an 18-wheeler.
“We’re losing our life out here,” Smith said. “I don’t know how to explain how I feel.”
The Smiths still have about 20 tigers and a handful of dogs to relocate, and they hope to do that in the next month.
Joe Schreibvogel, the owner of the G.W. park said he is looking to help Wesa place the rest of its animals. Four of the big cats are headed to Carnivore Preservation Trust in North Carolina. The future of the others is up in their air, and Schreibvogel said he might have to make another trip here in case no one else can take in the tigers.
Schreibvogel said his park has more than 170 big cats and 1,400 animals on 16 acres. He said Wesa had nice cages and their animals were healthy for the most part.
The animals’ new home, though, will be an upgrade. Schreibvogel said his park is licensed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Oklahoma.
Wesa is no longer licensed on the federal level — the facility surrendered its USDA license in 2003.
“There is no comparison,” Schreibvogel said. “And that’s just being honest. I don’t want to down anybody for their efforts.”
Smith didn’t deny her animals were going to a better home. She said Wesa wanted to create a better living environment for its animals, but the Smiths were unable to because of financial issues and pressure from animal rights groups and local citizens.
“Where they’re going to now is heaven,” Smith said. “It’s what I bought this 17 acres for. I couldn’t do it.”
Wesa was open to the public until 2003 when it forfeited its USDA license. Both Ken and Sandra Smith were on probation for various violations, such as the failure to register some animals and the failure to keep cages properly locked.
On Aug. 3, a 26-year-old man helping clean out cages was attacked by a tiger. Jacob Barr is recovering at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and is in fair condition
after having his right leg amputated.
Lisa Wathne, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, doesn’t think the animals will be any better off at the G.W. park. She said the fact that G.W. breeds and shows its animals is reason for concern, although Schreibvogel said it won’t affect how the animals are treated.
“A USDA license is doing nothing to protect the animals at that park,” Wathne said. “With all the animals at Wesa have been through, the sad fact of the matter is there’s no better place for them to go.”
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By Jordan Wilson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Aug. 17 2008