22 citations issued; zoo animals seized
Complaint leads to investigation
ERICA SHERRILL OWENS • American Staff Writer
email@example.com • March 25,
COLLINS — Collins Zoo volunteer Dionne Dufour seemed a bit anxious as she led a group of media around the zoo grounds.
But she continued to speak in a loving voice about the variety of animals in cages scattered throughout the fenced enclosure.
"He is not usually like this," Dufour said as she watched Brother, a large tiger, growl and charge at the front of his cage.
"He's just been aggravated with all of the people who have been in here this morning and the bad energy and stuff," said Dufour, a Collins Zoo volunteer of several years.
The negative energy Dufour spoke of was the result of a surprise investigation by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks on Wednesday morning.
About 20 state wildlife agents swarmed upon the zoo and seized several animals after the investigation.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks issued 22 citations to the zoo's owners, said Col. Steve Adcock, chief law enforcement officer for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Adcock said 19 citations were issued to the zoo's owners, Gus and Betty White, for a lack of permits to have inherently dangerous animals and three citations were issued for possession of various animals native to Mississippi.
The citations do have fines attached to them and the amounts will be determined by a justice court judge, Adcock said.
Adcock was not sure of the exact number of animals seized Wednesday, but he said he believed 17 turtles and a gray possum were confiscated.
Adcock said the wildlife officials were following up on a complaint the Humane Society of the United States filed last month. The organization claimed significant welfare and safety violations against the small roadside animal attraction and cited evidence
collected during an undercover investigation.
Investigators also have worked with the United States Department of Agriculture, Adcock said.
Last month, Betty White told The Clarion-Ledger that the zoo had been inspected by the USDA as recently as January.
"We basically came here for an inspection, but we had complaints and information and belief that some other animals were here so even though it wasn't necessary we went ahead and got a search warrant," Adcock said.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks spokesman James Walker said the search warrant was obtained through Covington County Justice Court.
Adcock said he would not make any determinations about closing the Collins Zoo.
"A lot of this is still under investigation," Adcock said. "There are some issues with some of the conditions and some of the cage sizes – things like that."
Investigators were concerned about the living and health conditions of some of the animals, Adcock said. He also noted some muddy floors in cages and other wet areas.
There was at least one dead animal when investigators arrived, Adcock said. A large African tortoise was found dead in front of a display case just inside the zoo's office.
Adcock said the Whites will be given 30 days to address the citations.
"They are going to be given a reasonable amount of time to comply with the regulations, and once that time is up we will look at it again," Adcock said.
"If it's not complied with, then we will be back."
White said she was advised by her attorney, Brian Neely of Tupelo, to not talk about anything regarding the zoo because of pending litigation.
White and her husband are in the process of suing the state for either the return of several animals seized in 2001 or the reimbursement of money for the animals.
Multiple attempts to reach Neely for a statement were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The Collins Zoo opened in 1988 and is funded solely by donations. The owners have been embroiled in legal battles since November 2001 when state officials seized 69 animals.
A variety of animals are kept at the zoo, including reptiles, birds, wolves and several breeds of large cats.
Volunteers said many of the animals were rescued and brought to the zoo for rehabilitation.
Mississippi Wildlife Agents Issue Citations To Collins Zoo
MDWFP Conducts Unannounced Inspection
POSTED: 3:37 pm CDT March 24, 2010
UPDATED: 4:18 pm CDT March 24, 2010
COLLINS, Miss. — Agents with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks were at the scene of a wildlife zoo in Collins on Wednesday.
As a result of an unannounced inspection the zoo was also issued 22 citations, Jim Walker of the MDWFP said. The zoo will be given a reasonable amount of time to complete the repairs and recommendations in order to come into compliance with the citations or will risk the loss of its animal housing permit, Walker said.
Earlier this year, the Humane Society of the United States filed a complaint that alleged welfare and safety violations at the roadside zoo.
The zoo sits near U.S. Highway 49 in south Mississippi's Covington County. Gus and Betty White opened the Collins Zoo in 1988.
Collins zoo raided by Department of Wildlife
Posted: Mar 24, 2010 12:17 PM EDT Updated: Mar 24, 2010 7:18 PM EDT
COLLINS, MS (WDAM) – About twenty officers with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks took a search warrant to the Collins Zoo Wednesday morning.
The search and inspection follows and undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society claimed to find some malnourished animals and dirty conditions.
"We basically came here for an inspection, but we had complaints and information and beliefs that some other animals were here," said Col. Steve Adcock of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
Officers spent about three hours inside the zoo, measuring cages and examining the conditions of the zoo and the animals.
"We are concerned with some of the living conditions and basically the caging requirements and things like that," said Adcock.
They seized a possum and some turtles because of species limitations. The zoo owners were given 22 citations, 19 of which were issued because of lack of permits for "inherently violent animals."
"They are going to be given a reasonable amount of time to comply with the regulation and once that time is up we will have to look at it then and if it's not complied with we will be back," said Adcock.
The zoo's attorney, Brian Neely, said the Wednesday search was out of retaliation from the owners suing the wildlife department. He said the owners are in compliance
"They know that what they did is outside of the law they know this and they are going to have to answer for it," said Neely. "This has been going on for five or six years and they keep doing this despite the court orders and the law applies to everybody and that includes wildlife officers as well."
WDAM spoke with the owners, but they said they are not able to comment on camera about the search warrant. They have been given 30 days to comply.
Copyright 2010 WDAM. All rights reserved.
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