Exotic animals at Davie-based Vanishing Species face harsh conditions

Avatar BCR | April 6, 2009 150 Views 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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This was the letter we sent to the reported on March 2, after his first investigation into Vanishing Species Wildlife:

Dear David,

Thank you for an excellent article on Vanishing Species Wildlife, Inc.  You did an excellent job of showing what these pseudo sanctuaries and "edutainment" facilities are all about.  Your video, photos and data base of exotic owners were great additions to illustrate the problem.

We were just dealing with Barbara Harrod over the issue of a bobcat she owns that is housed in a tiny, filthy cage in Ocala, FL.  The owner at that facility, called Animal Rescue Kingdom, located at 10561 SW 67th Ct. is Diane Zandman, who has been hospitalized for the last couple of months, leaving no Class I permit holder on the property to care for a tiger and the bobcat. 

Diane said the tiger and bobcat originated at Vanishing Species Wildlife Center.  When we tried to rescue the bobcat, Diane said we had to get permission from Vanishing Species' owner, Barbara Harrod, who gave us permission, but then Diane wouldn't allow Big Cat Rescuers to take the bobcat, after telling us we could, and having us drive two hours to her facility.  We require that she give up her license to own exotic cats, and she knew this in advance, having signed the documents, but then decided she didn't want to give up her license, just to give the bobcat a better home.

You can see the horrible conditions there at this link:


When I reported the horrid conditions to the FWC, they sent an inspector, Janice Jones, but she said she could see nothing wrong with the way the animals were housed.  No surprise there.  The FWC rarely sees any problem with animal abuse.  A.R.K. does not have a USDA license, despite the fact that they exhibit the tiger and bobcat daily to people who come by to see them.  The FWC has not required them to post a 10,000 bond, as became law in July 2007 for those who exhibit Class I animals.  The FWC is now trying to come up with a way to circumvent that rule so that people can have tigers, lions and bears (and assorted other Class I animals) in their back yards without having to comply with the law.  More here: http://bigcatrescue.org/laws/2008/captivewildanimalrules.htm#rules

As you can see from excerpts of a letter I sent to my board below, these facilities are often not in compliance with USDA, the IRS, or the Dept. of Consumer Services.

Diane Zandman is a Director of Vanishing Species Wildlife, Inc., along with Jeff and Barbara Harrod.   They have big cats too and Mary (the only animal caregiver who comes any more) said Diane got her hours from Jeff.  http://vanishingspecies.net/exoticpets.htm 

The 6000 sf house on 6.5 ac that we saw today is owned by Growing Involvement for Teens, Inc. which is a non profit created 5/14/99, just in time for it to have the house deeded to it on 10/99 with no apparent mortgage recorded, so I don't know if the home was donated to the non profit, or if the non profit had a pile of cash to invest.  At any rate, one of the Directors is Barbara Harrod of Vanishing Wildlife Species and Diane's son, who we saw today, Steve Zandman.  I have been told, by Barbara Harrod that Diane retired from the police force after damage to her lungs from inhaling chemicals on the job.  Perhaps there was a lawsuit against the police force that gave her the money for the house?

I pulled the 990's for Growing Involvement for Teens and it brings in between $5,000 and $15,000 each year and spends almost all of it on animal feed.  It claims a 400,000 asset, and the house and land are tax assessed for 523,000.00, so that is probable the asset.  It says Diane is the only employee, working 40 hours a week, but says she is paid 0.  They are not claiming the fact that she has been living in the house for the past 6 years (that we know of.) 

There is no FL business, nor is there a non profit listed with Guidestar called Animal Rescue Kingdom.  There is a website for it here: http://www.animalrescuekingdom.com/html/contact_us.html There is no web site for Growing Involvement for Teens. Neither of these organizations can be found in an online search of the non profits approved in FL for solicitation at http://app1.800helpfla.com/giftgiversguide/  which means they could be fined 1000.00 a day for illegally soliciting funds.  I haven't filed a complaint against them yet, but will do so when this is over.

Until November 17, 2008 the house and land appeared to be free and clear, but they borrowed 300,000.00 from Edward J.A. Ohanrahan, Jr. with the first monthly payment of 2250.00 due Jan. 1 and a balloon for the balance is due in 2012.  So far no foreclosure appears to have been filed, but they could only be 2 months late, if at all.

The nonsense we were told about some new rescue group buying the place and only wanted to focus on farmed animals seems pretty unlikely.  There has been no sale of the property since 1999, so the same non profit who owned it then still owns it now and Diane's friends, who own big cats via Vanishing Species, and son are still the Directors of that non profit.  Since Barbara Harrod still has big cats and thus has the necessary license to keep the bobcat and the tiger at either facility, it seems the real issue here is that Diane doesn't want to bother with the cats any more and neither does her son. It is not apparent that Growing Involvement for Teens serves any purpose other than as a non profit entity to hold the house and solicit funds.  If they only raised 6000.00 last year, as their 2007 tax return said, it will only pay the mortgage for a couple of months before there is no income.  This may be why the son is moving mom out and a tenant in.

Meanwhile, Diane owns another house in the neighborhood at 10147 SW 87th Terrace Ocala, FL  and her son Steve lists that address as his home address too.  She co owns it with Jason and Stella Yates who she thanks on her Animal Rescue Kingdom web page for 5 years of service. They paid 42,500.00 for that house on 3/20/2001.  It is up for sale now with a Realtor named David Harden 352.482.1822

There is no way to know if she received any insurance from the death of her husband Marc Zandman in January of 2008.  He died of an unexpected heart attack at the age of 52 while visiting his sister in Atlanta.  He had been a cop.  There is also no way to know what her hospitalization has cost her, and if that may be why she borrowed 300k on the house.  It would be completely inappropriate to take that money for her personal use, but who would ever know given the lack of non profit oversight?  By law you cannot shut down a non profit and keep the assets.  They have to be donated to another non profit, but by borrowing all she could get out of the house and then walking away from it, she could thumb her nose at the law and count on the fact that they will not pursue such a little fish. 

Under the circumstances, I think we should insist that Diane Zandman sign a letter saying she will never own another exotic cat on her own, or with any other group.  Otherwise we are just enabling her to go out and get cubs she can use.  Mary told us today that there have been a number of cubs who were brought to them by breeders for bottle raising and picked up by "zoos."  Her website claims she has had lions, jaguars, cougars, bobcats and caracals to name just the cats.  She claims to rescue them and send them to "forever homes."  Just 3 months ago Diane was advertising tea cup poodle puppies for sale and it looked like more than half of the animals still in their care are pregnant.

None of this changes the fact that there is a bobcat in a tiny, barren, filthy, rain soaked cage and a tiger in a metal shed, on cold, wet, concrete floors, who has spent her entire six years there. 

In my discussion with Barbara Harrod, she said they had been evicted from their Palmdale location and had moved in with Jean Hatfield in Davie.  Jean was a notorious breeder and dealer of the early 1990s who I had thought was long gone.  I last dealt with her in 1996 while rescueing two bobcats from her.  At the time she said she was getting out of the cat business, but since we did not require written contracts at the time, it appears she has continued. 

Catherine Hunter, a volunteer there, said she couldn't stand to see the tiger hobbling about on feet that had sores all over her pads from being on concrete.  Her number is 352.302.8633 and I think she would be happy to talk to you about the miserable conditions there too.

I will send you photos in the next email.

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:


For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:


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Exotic animals at Davie-based Vanishing Species face harsh conditions, officials say

They're cute, cuddly and young. But when they grow up, the lions and tigers at Davie-based Vanishing Species face harsh conditions, officials say. It's not a pretty sight.

By David Fleshler South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 4, 2009

The magazine ad shows a panther cub with huge ears and a kitten-like face, just one of the delightful animals that Vanishing Species Wildlife Inc. will bring to your child's birthday party.

But after a short performing career, the cub may have little to look forward to. Vanishing Species, based in Davie, has drawn scathing reports from state and federal wildlife agencies for keeping adult tigers, lions and other animals in filthy conditions, feeding them rotten food and failing to provide adequate veterinary care.

Animal welfare groups say the problems extend well beyond a single company, as wildlife exhibitors relentlessly breed photogenic, money-making cubs that grow into adults that nobody wants.

"The problem is especially pronounced with big cats," said Lisa Wathne, exotic animal specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "A lot of places use tigers and lions as photo ops. They very quickly grow too big, and they're dumped. And there's nowhere for these animals to go. The accredited sanctuaries are full to overflowing."

There are about 2,700 licensed animal exhibitors in the United States, ranging from major operations such as Miami Metro Zoo to small ones like Vanishing Species and its dozen or so South Florida competitors, which charge a few hundred dollars to entertain at schools, fairs and birthday parties. They value baby bears, tigers and lions because they can charge $20 or more for photos with the adorable beasts. But grown ones are in about as much demand as a 10-year-old Buick.

Mark McCarthy, owner of McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary in northwestern Palm Beach County, which has about 100 animals, including 20 big cats, said some organizations take in or breed too many animals. It can cost $6,000 a year just to feed an adult tiger, he said, and annual veterinarian bills average about $1,000.

"They're very expensive to take care of," he said. "You don't want people to have big cats who can't afford to take them to the vet."

The trade journal Animal Finders Guide contains lots of advertisements like this one: FREE: one year old female Siberian tiger, one-year-old male black bear, five-year-old neutered and declawed black bear. All animals have been in petting zoo and are good natured.

That ad came from Brown's Oakridge Zoo, a Smithfield, Ill., institution whose web page shows photos of children playing with baby animals. "Imagine being able to hold a lion, tiger, or bear cub," the zoo's Web page states. "It brings out the kid in all of us."

Nancy Brown, the zoo's owner, said she breeds lions, tigers, leopards and cougars, displaying the cubs in places like schools and nursing homes before trying to place the grown animals with new owners.

"Our cubs are used for educational purposes and therapeutic purposes," she said. "They basically go to someone starting a facility or needing a replacement animal. They are all properly licensed and have proper facilities."

What happens if no one wants these animals, given the saturation of the market? Nolan Lemon, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates wildlife exhibitors, said, "Generally they'll all be adopted by a sanctuary." But wildlife advocates say this is nonsense because most sanctuaries are full, and it's expensive to properly care for a full-grown tiger or lion.

"There's no system for tracking where these animals go," said Beth Preiss, exotic pets director for the Humane Society of the United States. "There are very few high-quality sanctuaries. They rarely go to accredited zoos."

Vanishing Species bred large carnivores and now has several cougars, a lion and seven tigers at its Davie compound, most in cages measuring 10 feet by 20 feet. William Trubey, a retired investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who inspected Vanishing Species for years, said it bred cubs for shows, a problem that's "endemic to the exhibition business."

On Aug. 1, 2007, after repeated warnings, Trubey said he assembled a team of inspectors and went to Vanishing Species' property. Trubey said they found cages reeking of feces and urine, animals being fed rotten chicken that "you couldn't stand to put it near your body, let alone smell," and an absence of records to account for the death or sale of animals that were gone.

"There are animals living in filth, living in their own urine, their own feces," he said. "It's absolutely filthy. … I probably have seen only three facilities run as poorly as this one."

Barbara Harrod, listed on documents as president or secretary-treasurer of Vanishing Species, was charged with five misdemeanor criminal violations of the captive-wildlife laws. She is due April 21 in Broward County Court. If convicted, she faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine on each count.

In a separate case, involving a complaint by the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding treatment of the animals, Harrod and her husband signed a consent order last February not admitting fault but agreeing to pay a fine of $3,750, avoid future violations and move big cats off their Davie site by July 31. The complaint accused them of feeding animals food contaminated with maggots, lying about providing veterinary care and failing to provide shelter from wind, rain and sun.

In an interview last month, Barbara Harrod blamed the federal accusations on an unfair inspector. She could not be reached for comment on the state charges, despite two phone messages. Her lawyer, Jeffrey Grossman, declined comment.

Mary Ann Rayot, a volunteer at Vanishing Species, defended the Harrods, saying they take in unwanted animals and do their best to care for them.

"The animals are well loved, and all of us work so hard," she said. "There's no place else for them to go. I know the animal rights people will tell you it's not fair for them to be in cages. It's not fair for them to be put to sleep either."

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4535.


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